Q. Does the sweetener stevia cause your insulin level to spike? What effect does it have on immunity? – Mr. Hyde
Dear Mr. Hyde,
This issue of artificial sweeteners has been heating up over the past couple of years but is not a new debate. You have powerful lobbies jockeying for position in the market place of artificial sweeteners and everyone wants to be king. Be careful what you read as much of this information is tainted by dollar bills. I have been following these reports and what I have found is a lot of “he said, she said”.
This issues goes back to 1986 when two articles were published, one appeared in a medical journal called The Lancet, and the other published by the American Cancer Society. These reports were similar and basically stated that artificial sweeteners resulted in increased hunger ratings and increased food consumption.
Ever since then the battle has been on. Much of the research has been on mice but since mice don’t have ready access to Taco Bell, television advertisements, and Gummy Bears, the human element is removed. To say that rats act the same as people is to now step into the world of politics and that is beyond the scope of this article. So in general I look at the rat studies with limited interest.
There was one rat study in particular that does address one of your questions. They fed rats stevia and glucose and noted that the rats given stevia had a sharper insulin response. This can be of benefit in type 2 diabetes, as it would reduce the blood sugar level. What is not noted is how long the insulin response lasted. You want a good insulin response but you also want the insulin receptor to be very sensitive to insulin’s effect so that the insulin quickly returns to normal.
The other question you raise is the effect on the immune system. It was shown in one rat study to increase both cellular and humoral immunity which may be of benefit but again we are back to the politicians. We are a long way from stating that stevia is good for human immune defense but at least there appears to be no evidence of harm.
Bottom line, this issue is far from being settled. There will be lots of arguments to be made and studies to investigate but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself “what’s my healthiest course of action today?” I have to wonder why some people feel the need to make everything so sweet. How did our ancestors survive without these wonderful (toxic) sweeteners? Life must have been unbearable. Or was it?
Have you ever eaten an organic, raw, unsalted almond? Up until a few years ago, I hadn’t. Why would I when the salty roasted ones taste so darn good? But as I cleaned up my diet trying to reduce my processed food content I gave these naked little almonds a try. As I sat at my desk the other day I found myself craving those almonds and as I dug into the bag it dawned on me how sweet they were. Yes, raw unsalted almonds are sweet when placed on a tongue that hasn’t been numbed by sugar. In fact all vegetables contain sugar as complex carbohydrates and you can taste the subtle sweet nature of these foods provided your tongue and palate haven’t been assassinated by tons of sugar.
My wife will forgive me (as she does on a daily basis) if I tell a story about her sugar passion. When I met my wife she was a sugar-aholic. We once sat and ate a particularly large dinner and she got right up and went foraging for candy. I asked how she could possibly still be hungry and she replied “There is always room for candy.” Some people have simply developed this insatiable need for sweets and I see this drive people to seek out artificial sweeteners. If this is you then let me suggest that you try to change your palate. You can alter what your idea of sweet is. You can reset your sweetness sensors and remove your need for artificial sweeteners all together. This would mute the whole Stevia, Saccharine, Splenda, Aspartame, Xylitol debate forever.
Eat whole foods, not processed foods that contain artificial sweeteners. If you do this consistently, your desire for sugar will melt away along with your waist line. I have seen it happen a thousand times. I have experienced it myself. Don’t forget that I was once a Diet Coke and cookie fan. Change is all there is in life. We never stay the same. The only question you have to ask yourself is: which direction am I moving?
Is there anyone who has a similar story? How many sugar-maniacs are out there that have discovered the sweet taste of simple food?
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