Could It Be That Diet Sodas Make Us Fat?

Thrive-JeffBell_Close_Cropped_Headshot_10-29-2013

I think just about everybody who cares about real health these days gets it that most non-sugar sweeteners are bad for you.  We know that Aspartame™, NutraSweet™ and the rest of those artificial sweeteners destroy health.

Most of them lead to horrible diseases, including various cancers, brain tumors and more.

And yet we are so concerned about looking too fat, and so obsessed with our appearances that many of us drink diet sodas anyway.  We tell ourselves that using artificial sweeteners is the lesser of two evils.

But what if artificial sweeteners do make us fat?

What if they add to the bulge and destroy our health?

I hear you ask, “How can that be?  There is no sugar and they have no calories in them.”

The full answer is complex, but I will keep it simple and focus on the essential information you need to understand.

Here’s why diet sodas make you fat:  We all know about insulin and that it is secreted by the pancreas.  Insulin is required in order for our bodies to metabolize sugar.  The more sugar there is in your blood, the more insulin your pancreas needs to secrete so that the sugar can be metabolized.  When you don’t have sufficient insulin for the amount of sugar in your blood, that is a form of diabetes, which can be a life-threatening health condition.

In addition to being required for your body to metabolize sugar at the cellular level, insulin prompts your body to store available excess calories as fat.  This is not a bad thing.  We need some fat in order to be healthy.

But problems occur when we have too much insulin so that we store too much fat – we end up packing on the pounds.  The problem is compounded because excess insulin stimulates the appetite so that we are compelled to eat more.

This happens even if we don’t really need more food.  I say compelled because the chemicals the brain releases to convince us to eat more are overwhelmingly powerful.  They are nearly impossible to resist.

At any given time, there is some sugar in your blood stream.  Either it is there because you have taken in a food or beverage that has sugar in it, or your body has broken down carbohydrates and converted them to sugar.  Again, as long as it is within reasonable limits, this is normal and is not a problem.

The body does its best to secrete the right amount of  insulin for the amount of sugar in the bloodstream at any given time.  If there is more sugar and insulin than is needed for immediate energy requirements, then the insulin prompts the body to store the excess as fat.  If this happens often enough, we can become obese.  Look around the U.S. today and you will see that many of us suffer from this problem.

Your brain is the primary control over how much insulin your pancreas releases into your blood stream at any given time.  It tries to match the insulin level to the amount of sugar it thinks is in your blood.

Having too much insulin causes serious problems.  At the very least it leads to obesity.   It also leads to insulin resistence, which is a condition in which the cells lose their ability to respond to the insulin.  The insulin receptors in the cells get “worn out” and lose their functionality.  This is also known as “metabolic syndrome” and is being diagnosed more and more often in the U.S. today.

Having too little insulin also is a problem.  It leaves sugar that cannot be metabolized stranded in the blood stream or in intracellular spaces in our bodies.  This stranded sugar causes horrendous damage.  Look at anyone who has had diabetes for an extended period of time and you will see the kinds of damage that such stranded sugar causes.

So to prevent either too much insulin or too little, our brains anticipate the required insulin as we eat.  Our brains send an “advance order” to the pancreas so that the insulin is ready when the anticipated sugar enters the blood stream.  This fact is critical!   Keep it in mind as I add the final pieces to this puzzle.

How does the brain know how much insulin to order?  There are taste receptors on your tongue for the basic flavors or tastes that humans can detect.  Sweetness is one of these basic flavors or tastes.  The sweet taste receptors are located at the back of the tongue.

When anything that tastes sweet comes in contact with these sweet taste receptors, the brain thinks that sugars are being eaten.  It tries to determine how much, so it can order the appropriate amount of insulin from the pancreas.  It also does its best to “estimate” how soon the sugars will be digested and absorbed into the blood stream.  It uses this “estimate” to tell the pancreas how soon to release the insulin into the blood stream.

It bases this timing estimate on the form of the sugar.  For eexample, complex carbohydrates tend to digest slowly and their sugars tend to absorb slowly and gradually.  On the other hand, the sugars in most beverages are absorbed very quickly.  A portion of them even may be absorbed right through the mucous membranes in your mouth and throat.  So those saugars can get into the blood stream almost immediately.  This is one reason why sugar-containing beverages and simple carbohydrates then to cause spikes in our blood sugar.  Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice or buckwheat are far less likley to spike our blood sugar levels.  They also don’t tend to lead to spikes in insulin levels.

Back to the effects of sweet tastes:  When we eat or drink anything that tastes sweet, the brain orders insulin, even if there is no real sugar and there are no real calories!  Just the sweet taste will do it.  This is known as the cephalic effect, (cephalic for head – it’s all in your head since there is no actual sugar for the insulin to match.)

That is why almost all artificial sweeteners, and even most natural sugar substitutes lead to over production of insulin.

In fact, many of these non-sugar sweeteners cause far more insulin to be produced and released than a corresponding amount of sugar would.  This is because many of these sugar substitutes actually taste much sweeter than sugar.  So the brain gets fooled into ordering far more insulin than it would for a corresponding amount of real sugar.

Let’s review the basic chain of events:

1.  We drink a diet soda.

2.  The artificial sweetener in the soda comes in contact with the sweet taste receptors on the tongue.

3.  The brain says, “Oh, we’ve got a bunch of sugar headin’ down the pipe.  Better order up some insulin.”  It sends an order to the pancreas.

4.  The pancreas creates the amount of insulin that the brain ordered and releases it into the blood stream.

5.  The amount of insulin is way more than is really needed for the actual amount of sugar taken in.  (There wasn’t any real sugar in the soda.)

6.  The insulin grabs any available sugars that are not immediately needed for current energy production and stores them as fat.

7.  The excess insulin also turns our appetites back on again and we are compelled to eat more food, even if we are not really hungry. *

8.  We go buy bigger clothing!

9.  We look in the mirror or try on the clothes that fit fine last season and say, “Oh no!”  And we go looking for more foods and beverages that have artificial sweeteners in them.

Is this one of those proverbial vicious cycles?

* When we have too much insulin in our blood, our body starts looking for ways to get the sugar it needs to balance out the excess insulin.  So it stimulates our appetites to eat more carbohydrates and sweets.

You can see that this is a classic vicious cycle that destroys our health.

Unfortunately, this phenomena occurs even with “natural” sugar substitutes such as stevia and agave sweeteners.  Even though these sweeteners do not typically raise the actual blood sugar levels significantly because they do not have much bio-available sugar or many bio-available calories in them, they do raise the insulin levels higher than they should be.   Again, when this happens the appetite gets turned on and we are compelled to eat more food – typically far more than we need.

And don’t be fooled by the marketing nonsense about fruit sugars, various forms of fructose and the like.  They all lead to this same problem, and many of them are far worse than plain old cane sugar.

So what to do?  There are no easy answers.  Anything we eat or drink that tastes very sweet is almost certain to cause this problem.  Part of the problem is that because the average American diet has become sweeter and sweeter over time we have become accustomed to ever sweeter tastes.  It takes some time and effort but we can train ourselves away from the super sweet and back to a more “normal” level of sweetness in our foods and beverages.  If we do this our palettes gradually learn to like things that are not quite as sweet.

Also, there is a relatively new, 100% organic sweetener that does not stimulate excess insulin.  In fact, it has been very extensively tested and it has no bad health effects at all.  On the contrary, it has some interesting health benefits.  It is even completely safe for both Type I and Type II Diabetics.  A trade off is that it does not taste quite as sweet as most of the artificial sweeteners.  But I have found it fairly easy to get used to.  I have been using this new sweetener for about a month and the older, sweeter ones that I was using do not even taste good to me anymore.  I was using stevia, which now tastes way too sweet to me.  The new sweetener is derived from the Acai berry, and it is actually good for you.  It is not new in terms of research.  It is the result of years of research by the director of the Glycemic Institute and has been through years of thorough safety testing.  It is just relatively new on the market.  If you would like to know more about this, please send me an e-mail:

jeff@myhealthoptimizer.com

To your health!

Jeff Bell

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6 Comments

  1. k.Filips
    Posted September 11, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Jeff,
    I found this article to be both interesting and informative. Things I have never heard of in these areas of the sweetness level and the brains ability to “guess” how much insulin we’ll need to use and send the message to the brain and all by how sweet our foods are…. Wow. This is brand new to me. I have been using sweetners for years at half strength because, as you mentioned they are too sweet. I haven’t noticed any excessive insulin issues when using these products. My “sweetness” level is at half strength and that may help.
    Enough about that….. I have tried the new Acai sweetener (thanks Jeff) and really like, maybe even love it. Especially because I found it less sweet and so sugar like, that even when I tried it straight it tasted so nice with no after taste at all. So really pleased with the product and enjoyed the info. Thanks K

    • Jeff Bell
      Posted September 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your kind word and encouragement. To be honest, I did not know about the “cephalic” factor in most sweeteners until just a few years ago. I knew to stay away from the chemical sugar substitutes because I knew they were toxic and caused a number of terrible diseases and health conditions. (I also did not like the taste of most of them.) But I did not know that they led to reactions that led to overly high blood insulin levels.

      Since I learned about this cephalic reaction a few years ago, I have used limited amounts of stevia, but have felt on an instinctual level that it was not very good for me. I don’t use much sweetener so maybe it is not a big issue for me, but I am much happier on this front since I found out about the acai-based sweetener.

      Feel free to e-mail me at: jeff@myhealthoptimizer.com if you want more information about the acia-based sweetener.

  2. Jean Allord
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh my goodness! This is the most astounding piece of information on diabetes/insulin/sugar that I’ve heard in a long time! It makes perfect sense.
    Thank you for teaching this!! And all this time I thought I was doing a good thing with using Stevia. Absolutely yes, yes tell me about the Acai ASAP!
    Jean

    • Jeff Bell
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      For those with diabetes, (I’m talking here about Type II or “Adult Onset” – Juvenile Onset is a whole other kettle of fish and really needs to be discussed separately), using Stevia in preference to sugar, and certainly in preference to artificial sweeteners makes sense up to a point. The bottom line, as I point out in my blog post is that ANYTHING that tastes really sweet is almost certainly going to trigger an insulin spike. These are damaging for everyone, and they are the very last thing you want for someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes.

      So no matter what you do in terms of having some form of sweetener in your diet, if you want to protect your health it is going to have to be a sweetener that is not super sweet tasting. And it will need to be used in moderate quantities. So that old idea that it is fine, from a blood sugar balance point of view, to dump 3 packets of Equal into your tea is not valid. As my uncle would have said, “That dog won’t hunt.”

      My preferred sweetener if a product from Boresha International called, “BSweet”. It is more expensive than other artificial sweeteners. (Actually, it is not really accurate to call it an artificial sweetener since it is made from natural ingregients.) It is made from the Acai berries and some Kiwi fruit juice and a few other things. It does not taste as sweet as sugar does, but I find it satisfying. And it does not spike my blood sugar or my blood insulin levels. I am not diabetic, but I check these things in the interest of research as I try new products. IO have been using BSweet for about 3 years now.

      In the interest of full disclosure, I liked the BSweet and the other Boresha products enough so that I became a distributor, so I make a few bucks on the products. It is not much, but it goes to help support my health research projects.

      If you are interested, you can buy a single jar of the Boresha BSweet for $21.95 plus shipping. That’s 12 ounces, and works out to 113 servings per jar, if you stick to their recommended serving size, which is 3/4 of a teaspoon, or 3 grams. If you are interested, send me an e-mail and I will send you the details on how to purchase.

      Two more points to emphasize: If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, the real indicator to watch it NOT blood sugar. Rather it is blood insulin level. However, this is a problem for most of us. There is no home test kit available for testig blood insulin level. That must be done by a lab. And most physicians will even give you a hard time about ordering the test. I expect to have an article on this in the near future because there is a lot of confusion and dangerously wrong information on the subject. Secondly, I just want to say again that from everything I have learned about this subject, there does not seem to be a way around training oneself to be satisfied with lower levels of sweetness. No free lunch and no way around this.

  3. Jean
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Jeff you’re right about the importance of checking insulin levels. And yes it can be difficult to get a doc to order it. They just don’t get it. The ignorance surrounding diabetes by many doctors is deplorable—and we are looking to them to treat us!
    One consoling feature about going to a product like BSweet is that once the “noise” is gone a person can begin to really savor and be satisfied with the lesser taste of sweetness. It happens when you stop eating food with MSG in it—things taste bland for awhile but then the finesse of the natural flavors eventually shines through.
    I will email you to order the BSweet—thank you!
    Jean

    • Jeff Bell
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      Jean, my dream is an affordable home test for blood insulin levels. But until then, I just am careful not to eat the things that spike insulin, and I advise my clients to do the same.

      You are so right about MSG. It is an absolute disaster. I avoid it like the plague, literally. The problem is that it is in so many foods and is often not labled in ways that are at all obvious. For example, all “texturized vegetable protein” that I am aware of has MSG in it, but this is never labeled. Arg! Not only does MSG destabalize blood insulin levels and cause systemic inflammation and artery wall damage, but it unbalances brain chemistry, as well. Bad news!

      Because of this and similar issues with poor labels making it hard to tell what is in prepared foods, we have resorted to avoiding almost all prepared foods, and we seldom even eat in restaurants anymore, unless we know the owners and/or chefs and know for sure that they don’t put bad stuff in the food or use bad ingredients. What a shame that greed has driven our culture to such a sorry state! Perhaps if enough people wake up and start boycotting such food sources, the very force that ruined our food supply, pure greed, will actually be the force that helps to fix it! All we can do is vote with our wallets, spread the word and hope and pray for a higher level of knowledge among everyone.

      To your great health!

      Jeff Bell

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