joanna blythman quote web

How much longer can the anti-sugar lobby ignore the embarrassingly large elephant in its room: the health issues associated with artificial sweeteners? The silence is deafening. Heads are deep in sand.

Sales of artificially sweetened beverages are bound to benefit directly from the forthcoming tax on sugary drinks and the ongoing war on sugar, but the bad news about zero-cal, chemical sweeteners just keeps piling up.

Last month alone, two important studies should have caused anyone promoting diet drinks as a preferable alternative to sugary ones to think again. The first one, published in JAMA Pediatrics Journal, found that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is associated with increased infant body mass index and a doubling in the risk of being overweight in early childhood. In a nutshell, women who quench their thirst on diet drinks while pregnant are more likely to produce fat babies.

A fortnight later we learn of another study, this time from researchers at York University, Canada. They discovered that obese people who consume artificial sweeteners have worse glucose management than those who don’t, predisposing them to type 2 diabetes. The team suggests that diet sweeteners cause changes in gut bacteria that can lead to glucose intolerance.

These studies only add to the swelling body of research reporting that despite the fact that they contain no calories, artificial sweeteners have a nasty habit of keeping us fat.

Where’s the mystery here? Diet sweeteners are anything from 200 to 37,000 times sweeter than sugar. On the odd occasion I have tried them, their cloying attack has struck me as surreally sweet. How can anything that tastes this larger than life possibly be good for our tastebuds or wellbeing?

Anti-sugar campaigners argue that the battle against sugar must move forward incrementally. As they see it, sugar, not sweeteners, is Public Enemy Number One. One step at a time, they caution. I can’t agree. If you tell people to avoid sugary drinks, be courageous enough to suggest they drink water instead. The “halfway house” option of weaning them off sugar and on to sweeteners is a chimera. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of Swallow This