Artificial sweeteners have been increasingly popular in recent decades. Nowadays, it’s almost difficult to travel anywhere without running into one of those teeny, colorful packages. In fact, folks close to you have likely some tucked away in their pockets or handbags.
And, while one seems to be more popular than another, the pervasiveness of these additives has led many of us to overlook how they may be impacting our health.
Do artificial sweeteners really harm your health? Well, given their tremendous popularity, you’d be excused for thinking differently. But let’s just start with the fact that a chemist working with coal tar discovered saccharin, an artificial sweetener, more than 150 years ago.
The fact that we are even mentioning a well-known carcinogenic material like coal tar and something we put in our bodies should be cause for alarm. Yet, here we are.
Of course, we’ll go much deeper into the adverse effects of artificial sweeteners in just a bit. But, as readers of this blog, you may be asking whether there is a connection between artificial sweeteners and gout.
Do artificial sweeteners cause gout? Well, there is no direct evidence for that. But let’s just say that every time you add one of those phony sugar packets to your drink or food, the ever-present gout monster smiles gleefully.
So, this article will help you by outlining what gout is and how it manifests itself. Furthermore, we’ll look at how artificial sweeteners affect your gout, as well as how and why you should avoid them.
Understanding What Gout Is and What Causes It
Gout is a common type of arthritis and a dangerous medical condition that, if not treated appropriately, may severely hamper your quality of life. What’s more, there is no permanent cure for gout. Managing your symptoms with certain drugs, making lifestyle changes, and regulating your diet is therefore critical.
Certain foods, such as rich meats, worsen your gout significantly. If you consume a lot, this may sometimes result in a trip to the hospital. It also usually means you’ll be unable to move around as you’d like.
Of course, changing your diet and managing what you eat to avoid exacerbating a gout flare-up may be challenging. That’s why we’ll take a closer look at why managing your diet is crucial and how eliminating everyday ingredients like artificial sweeteners is a lot easier than you think.
What Causes Gout?
Gout occurs when your blood contains a high concentration of uric acid, which causes joint inflammation. There is an inherent uric acid threshold in our bodies. After a certain point, though, painful crystals known as urate may develop in and around any of your joints.
The pain that results from urate crystal formation frequently contributes to the onset of additional gout symptoms.
Two major variables contribute to high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. One, you are genetically predisposed to it. Two, you consume too many purines in your diet.
How Do High Levels of Uric Acid Form?
According to research, gout has a 65% heritability. The study goes on to mention that approximately 20% of patients with gout also have a family member who suffers from the ailment. If it is a first-degree relative, such as a brother or parent, your risk is higher.
The second variable is that those who consume a lot of high-purine meals are more likely to develop gout. Many so-called experts will tell you that this covers many animal products as well as some vegetables such as mushrooms or asparagus.
Yes, reducing your intake of high-purine foods will assist your gout greatly. However, with gout, things are rarely, if ever, black and white. You see, some of the top foods that cause gout include game meat, organ meat, alcohol, and yes, sugary drinks and sweets.
These types of foods are regarded as high-risk food types for gout sufferers because of their purine-rich content. However, vegetables like mushrooms, spinach, and asparagus have high amounts of purines.
Nonetheless, studies have indicated that purine-rich vegetables like asparagus and spinach may not raise the incidence of gout or recurring gout attacks. Specifically, high purine-containing vegetables did not appear to be associated with hyperuricemia.
What is Hyperuricemia?
Hyperuricemia occurs when there is an excess of uric acid in the blood. This condition may lead to health issues like gout and kidney stones. One out of every five people is thought to have elevated uric acid levels.
Uric acid is formed when purines, which are chemical components found in some diets and may be produced by your body, degrade. For a long time, many assumed that hyperuricemia was the same as gout. However, we now know that hyperuricemia doesn’t necessarily cause gout.
As a matter of fact, most people with high uric acid levels show no symptoms of gout at all!
You may be producing excessive uric acid if you:
- You eat a lot of purines. Purine-rich foods include organ meats, game, herrings, and a few other forms of shellfish, as well as beer.
- Exercise and other factors cause your body’s cells to degrade.
- Your body naturally produces an excess of purines.
And guess what else! Overweight people are more likely to develop hyperuricemia. Artificial sweeteners have been related to increased caloric consumption and weight gain, which should come as no surprise to anyone.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
As you’ll see below, artificial sweeteners are frequently the subject of intense controversy. On the one hand, they’re said to raise your cancer risk and impair your blood sugar and gut health. On the other hand, most medical professionals believe they are safe. Many people use them to limit their sugar intake and lose weight.
Artificial sweeteners, sometimes known as sugar substitutes, are chemicals that are added to a variety of foods and beverages to enhance their sweetness. They are usually referred to as “strong sweeteners” since they have a similar taste to table sugar but can be hundreds of times sweeter.
Even though some sweeteners carry calories, the amount needed to sweeten food is so small that you effectively ingest no calories.
How Artificial Sweeteners Work
Your tongue’s surface is coated in numerous taste buds, each of which has several taste receptors that can distinguish between various flavors. Your taste receptors come into contact with food molecules as you eat.
Your brain receives a signal when a receptor and molecule are perfectly matched, enabling you to recognize the flavor.
The sugar molecule, for example, fits exactly into your sweetness taste receptor, allowing your brain to register the sweet flavor. Artificial sweetener molecules are similar enough to sugar molecules to fit on the sweetness receptor.
They are, however, too different from sugar for your body to turn down into calories. This is how they achieve a sweet flavor without adding calories. Only a small percentage of artificial sweeteners have a structure that your body can convert into calories.
Therefore, you consume almost no calories because artificial sweeteners are only used in trace amounts to make dishes taste sweet.
Where Are Artificial Sweeteners Typically Found?
There are many various types of artificial sweeteners, but fructose is often available in store-bought products and will be difficult to avoid. So, you could eat a sandwich and later that night develop gout as a result of the meal.
This is quite likely because fructose is a fairly inexpensive sugar to use. That’s why it’s so common in foods, including bread, particularly white bread. That being said, artificial and certain natural fruit juice (yes, you read that right, natural fruit juice too, but more on that below) and soda are the main “so-called foods” to stay away from in this scenario.
If you go to your local grocery shop, you’ll quickly realize that avoiding artificial sweeteners will be difficult. Especially if you consume a lot of fruit juice, soda, or other foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
It can seem like a daunting chore right now, and it will be challenging at first. However, if you simply pace out how much of the sweeteners you consume each day, it is definitely doable. Spread out your soda consumption, for instance, across an hour or two rather than downing the entire can at once.
You may also drink diet Coke because it has been determined that, technically, its sweeteners won’t make your gout worse. However, they may not always be better for you in general.
But drinking coke and trying to diet doesn’t make sense so make life easier by completely eliminating soda from your life. Fall in love with water, instead!
The Truth About Fructose
Returning to our natural juice discussion, studies have shown that some fruits are naturally high in fructose. To be clear, we’re not referring to the syrup used to can some fruits, such as peaches. Instead, we’re referring to foods such as dates, watermelon, apples, and, obviously, honey.
Although there are other foods to watch out for, such as oranges, these are the most significant. But just how much fructose do these foods contain? Well, let’s take a look and see:
- Soft drinks have a fructose content of 29,670 mg of fructose.
- Watermelon has a fructose content of 23,296 mg per 200 calories.
- Honey has a fructose content of 26,930 mg per 200 calories.
- Apple has a fructose content of 25,125 mg per 200 calories.
- Dates have a fructose content of 23,074 mg per 200 calories.
Yes, we were shocked by how much fructose these health-food mainstays contain.
That being said, moderation is key here. Besides, you’re more likely to gulp a can of soda than eat 3 apples in a row. On the other hand, there are certain foods you should definitely stay away from.
Foods and Ingredients to AVOID AT ALL COSTS
Let’s now look at the products and substances that have been found to worsen gout or inflammation. Most of them will contain either fructose or sucrose, as I shall explain at the end of this list.
Other foods may have an impact on gout. When it comes to sweeteners, look for high fructose corn syrup on your food’s nutritional information and ingredients label.
- Most candies and pastries – perhaps you can discover a nice at-home recipe to satisfy your sweet taste
- Canned fruits and soups – high fructose corn syrup is commonly used as a preservative in fruits and soups
- Certain condiments, such as ketchup and mayonnaise
- Regular sodas, such as Pepsi
- Fruit juice from the store
The truth is that this list could continue forever. This is mostly due to the high fructose corn syrup that most corporations use as a cheaper substitute for sugar. Reading the labels and nutritional statistics is the best approach to discovering whether or not a food product is nutritious.
Be wary of foods that are high in sugar or have the words “fructose” or “sucrose” on the label. These are two forms of sugars that are commonly found in processed products.
Remember that these ingredients can be found in foods. But, once again, moderation is key, so eat smaller portions and make sure you have medicine and other necessities on hand later that day.
Alternatives to Artificially Sweetened Foods and Beverages
We all know that making dietary changes, and sticking with them, can be incredibly challenging for most people. However, incorporating alternatives into the mix can help make the move easier to maintain.
Alternative foods can help you replace the food you were eating. You’re more likely to continue eating this healthier substitute food if you stick to your diet or routine for a period.
Here are some terrific options that taste great, have nutritional value, and will not provoke your gout symptoms.
- Stevia is an artificial sweetener that is plant-based and significantly sweeter than ordinary sugar
- Plain chocolate is fine but you should avoid brand-name candy bars
- Flavored sparkling water – for when you want to change things up a little
- Dairy products, such as low-fat or skim milk or yogurt
- Coffee or tea with no added sugar or sweeteners
- Pure water
- Cherry juice or cherries
Sticking to our moderation theme is the best approach to ensure that you may eat anything without worrying about gout. Needless to say, you should not eat tuna several times a week or drink sweetened coffee three times per day.
Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Cancer in Laboratory Rats
As previously mentioned, the widely used artificial sweetener saccharin (also known as saccharine) has been linked to cancer. Even worse, it has been demonstrated to be nutritionally worthless.
Saccharin was associated with bladder cancer in laboratory rats according to studies conducted in the 1970s. Even yet, prominent brand names like Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, and Necta Sweet® continue to include saccharin in their products to this day.
Aspartame is another common sweetener that should be far more contentious than it is. Aspartame is well-known for being a non-saccharide sweetener. It is also 200 times sweeter than sucrose (because apparently, 100 times wasn’t enough) and is widely used as a sugar substitute in foods and beverages.
Aspartame is available under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®. It’s been around since the early 1980s in the United States. Because it is significantly sweeter than sugar, aspartame is used in a variety of foods and beverages. The big selling point is that significantly less of it is required to get the same level of sweetness.
Aspartame-related health problems, such as cancer, have long been the subject of rumors and concerns. According to Cancer.org, however, the findings of epidemiologic investigations on possible ties between aspartame and cancer have been inconclusive.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) declared aspartame “safe” at current usage and exposure levels in 2013. It even went on to state that it would not cause cancer. The EFSA is infamous for having industry-friendly positions and conflicts of interest on its panels.
In fact, the EFSA made similar controversial claims about sucralose, the artificial sweetener in Splenda. According to a study by the Ramazzini Institute, sucralose contained a chemical that potentially causes leukemia and related blood cancers in male mice.
The EFSA stated that the available data did not support Ramazzini’s conclusion that sucralose causes such cancers.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the EFSA was seen as being overly-dismissive of the findings done on both sucralose and aspartame.
Nevertheless, the CPSI maintains its position that consumers, especially children and pregnant women, should continue to avoid sucralose and aspartame. Their warning also includes artificial sweeteners acesulfame-potassium and saccharin.
While the potential cancer risk to people is limited, the CPSI believes there is no reason to accept any cancer risk from these products. Nonetheless, the dangers of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity provided by excessive sugar consumption, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, considerably surpass the cancer risk posed by artificial sweeteners.
The Potential Dangers of Consuming Artificial Sweeteners
The market for artificial sweeteners is huge because sugar is very addictive. In fact, studies have shown that sugar may be just as addictive as cocaine!
Sugar is essentially designed to engage your brain’s pleasure and reward system. This helps in releasing opioids and dopamine, both of which create a euphoric high.
Naturally, the Big Food Industry wants to win big and does not want to pass on such a rich opportunity. Sure, they’ll include nutritional information on their products, as mandated by their regulators. However, laser vision may be required to detect all of the hidden sugars in your food and beverages.
Recent evidence indicates a slew of potentially hazardous side effects. Here are a few of the most common:
- Anxiety, Depression, and Mood Disorders: Researchers indicated a relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and unhappiness and irritation. If you suffer from depression or mood swings, try cutting out sugar and artificial sweeteners for 1 to 2 weeks. Additionally, try to get adequate sleep and water. Many people see an immediate improvement in their mood.
- Gaining Weight: Artificial sweeteners decrease your metabolism by interfering with your body’s insulin-glucose balance. When this happens, your brain interprets you as hungrier, which may lead to overeating.
- Increases the Potential for Cancer: Consuming artificial sweeteners has been shown to increase the growth of malignant tumors. Aspartame, for example, is included in hundreds of food products. Some examples are Diet Coke, sugar-free ice cream, sugar-free confectionery, breakfast cereals, gum, yogurt, and coffee creamer.
- Chronic Heart Disease: Artificial sugar consumption is linked to obesity, which may put undue stress on your cardiovascular system. These cardiometabolic conditions include hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
- Migraines and Headaches: If you have frequent headaches or migraines, you must avoid artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame). Recent studies have identified nutritional links between the long-term use of artificial sweeteners and headaches or migraines.
- Risk to Expectant Mothers: According to studies, children whose mothers ingested artificial sweeteners when they were pregnant and nursing had an increased risk of developing obesity and metabolic syndrome diseases.Consumption of artificial sweeteners prior to birth has also been linked to baby weight gain and preterm birth.
- Increases Risk of Diabetes: Doctors have previously advised diabetics to stay away from sugar and instead use artificial sweeteners. However, more recent research indicates that artificial sweeteners may potentially alter insulin sensitivity and do more harm than good.
- Raises Risk of Damage to the Liver: According to studies, greater consumption of artificial sweeteners (particularly in soft drinks) causes lipid (fat) accumulation in the liver, fibrosis, and liver deterioration.Instead of soda, try sparkling water, tea, or kombucha. The liver is your body’s cleansing powerhouse, and you don’t want to put any additional load on it!
Artificial Sweeteners Are a Risk Not Worth Taking
We advocate avoiding artificial sweeteners in favor of natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and even a tiny quantity of genuine sugar in occasional treats. However, like with every aspect of your diet, you must make the judgments that you believe are best for you.
If you can’t fathom life without artificial sweeteners, you should try to gradually limit your intake to give your palate time to acclimate. You might not miss them as much as you thought you would.