A recent article by investigative journalist Gary Taubes reinforces the reality that sugar cravings can be a biological addiction for some people. Recognizing and accepting this fact is the first step towards defeating an enemy that will sabotage your health and vitality.
Feeling powerless in the presence of a tub of ice cream, or a box of Oreos? Give yourself the grace to understand that willpower alone is not enough -- the best way to defeat cravings is to avoid the temptation entirely. Keep problem products out of the house, and try to avoid situations where they are present.
But what about artificial sweeteners?
For years, the food and medical industries have promoted the idea that artificial sweeteners can be healthy, and helpful. Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, for example, claim that artificial sweeteners are a good way to reduce added sugar and calorie consumption.
However, science tells a different story. A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at all published research studying the relationship between artificial sweeteners, weight gain, and general "cardiometabolic health" (such as diabetes and heart disease). They found that there is no clear health benefit to using artificial sweeteners, and that the studies reviewed showed an increased risk of weight gain and health problems.
Basic science also offers evidence that chemical sweeteners are hazardous to our health. A landmark study published in Nature in October 2014 demonstrates that using artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame (Nutra Sweet), and sucralose (Splenda) can actually impair glucose tolerance due to changing the composition of bacteria in our intestines (known as our "microbiome"). Specifically, both mice and humans demonstrated impaired glucose tolerance after exposure to artificial sweeteners, and in mice this change was associated with a reduction in beneficial bacteria and an increase in "bad" bacteria.
Finally, there's the effect that artificial sweeteners have on cravings in general. The American Diabetes Association is perhaps the most confused, and confusing, on this point. From their Web site:
Food and drinks that use artificial sweeteners are another option that may help curb your cravings for something sweet.
To maximize your health, avoid foods with added sugar as much as possible. You'll soon rediscover just how delicious naturally sweet foods like fruits and vegetables can taste. Over time, your body will help remind you just how much better you feel when you avoid added sugar and artificial sweeteners.