A Sweet Lunch With Sweeteners

It’s amazing what you can learn over lunch! As I sat at Gordon Ramsey’s Maze restaurant in New York for lunch last week, our table’s conversation turned to artificial sweeteners and their effect on low-carb diets. (This was while I chomped on my carb free rib eye steak!) I had been under the impression that artificial sweeteners were bad in the same way that sugars were bad. I had recently researched into malitol (read my low carb chocolate post for more on malitol), which is a sugar alcohol frequently used in low-carb or sugar-free chocolates, and had found malitol to be poor sugar substitute for those on a low-carb diet. I had unfortunately jumped to the conclusion that basically anything sweet-tasting would be just as bad!

As I propounded my “all sweet tasting substitutes are awful for a low-carb diet” theory, one person at lunch corrected me by explaining that Splenda is actually not digested by our body and therefore would probably not cause the same insulin responses as normal sugar. This sounded wonderful, and I hopped onto the internet as soon as I could after lunch to discover the truths behind artificial sweeteners!

I remained very skeptical during my perusing of internet sites until I read Mark Sisson’s post on artificial sweeteners. Having been a physicist in an earlier life, scientific studies sway me way more than even the opinions of well-established nutritionist. The general scientific consensus definitely seems to be that Splenda does not produce spikes in your blood sugar (see my post on blood sugar levels versus insulin levels to understand this concept a bit better), but there are still some problems, which luckily can be overcome:

  1. If you consume Splenda on an empty stomach, your body may still produce insulin even though Splenda is not absorbed into your bloodstream. How does that happen? As soon as you put anything that tastes like sugar into your mouth, the taste buds on your tongue tells your body to start producing insulin immediately in anticipation of the rise in your blood sugar levels. Evolutionarily-speaking, this mechanism is great, because it allows your body to quickly respond to increases in your blood sugar level to prevent too much of a spike, which can be very dangerous (hence why diabetics who produce no insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels would die if they didn’t take insulin before eating dessert!).
  2. Most Splenda you find sold in supermarkets or at available at your coffee shop is mixed with a bulking agent (commonly dextrose), which does produce an insulin response in your body. Therefore, it’s best to use pure Splenda, which you can purchase online in a liquid form.

So bottom line? You can use pure Splenda (not the white powdery stuff you get usually) on a low carb diet if you consume the food that contains Splenda with a low-carb meal. Well, that’s pretty positive right? It certainly sounds like some more experimentation in my kitchen!

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Valeria - June 15, 2012

But I still have a question, even if you eat a low carb meal with it you will still produce insulin as an answer to the taste of sugar.. So isn’t the result the same? Plus you will not eat carbs to be transformed in energy, therefore the calories are stored as fat. Does it work like this? I’m trying to understand as well what is better!

    LoCarbolicious - June 18, 2012

    Pretty much everything we eat (other than pure fat like butter or oil) is going to trigger an initial insulin response. This is the case for any carb, any protein, and any artificial sweetener. It’s our body’s way of preparing itself for a rise in blood sugar. The theory behind eating low-carb is to minimize insulin in the blood. Since we’re pretty much always going to experience some insulin spike after a meal, what we really want to do is make sure that we keep our blood sugar relatively low (by eating low-carb), which allows our bodies to not need to produce any more insulin.

    No matter what you eat (even if it’s pure fat and protein), you’re going to store some of it as fat immediately after a meal. The key is just to keep blood sugar low to make sure that (1) your fat cells are releasing stored fat and (2) your muscle cells are relying on fat and ketones as their primary energy source. In this respect, artificial sweeteners like Sucralose don’t increase your blood sugar at all. The reason I suggest only consuming it with a meal is because otherwise, you’ll be spiking your insulin at times other than when you’re eating. For instance, if you drink diet sodas all day long (not just at meals), then you’ll be spiking your insulin continuously, even though you haven’t raised your blood sugar.

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