Ever do the sugar-or-sweetener cha-cha-cha at the coffee shop? You know, when you dance between the sugar shaker and the pink, blue and yellow packets? If this were a cartoon strip, the thought bubble over your head would read, "What’s the more healthful choice? The no-calorie fakes? The full-calorie hard stuff? Help!"
It's like choosing between raising taxes and increasing the national debt. Pick your poison. Okay, neither sugar nor sweeteners are poison if they're eaten in reasonable quantities, but that's our point. There's nothing reasonable about the amount of sugars and syrups in all kinds of foods, from bagels to frozen veggie mixes. The effect of these added sugars? Imagine eating 22 teaspoons of sugar for breakfast every day. That's average for Americans. Canadians average 14 teaspoons of sugar a day.
What that does to your health reads like a dirty laundry list. Research shows it lowers HDL (good) cholesterol and raises bad triglycerides. It also gloms onto proteins that create destructive substances called AGEs (short for advanced glycation end products). These set you up for heart disease, stiff joints, wrinkles, Alzheimer's, diabetes, kidney problems, bone fractures and vision loss. Phew. (Follow these steps to stop sugar cravings.)
That's why we YOU Docs are on a mission to get added sugars out of healthful foods, such as low-fat yogurt and whole-grain cereals. And that's why if you don't like black coffee (Dr. Mike's choice) or green tea (Dr. Oz's choice), we'd say—reluctantly—take the sweetener.
Why reluctantly? It's not that sugar substitutes cause cancer or make hair grow in weird places. In fact, sweeteners have been studied far more than most drugs (there've been at least 100 studies on sucralose/Splenda alone). The problem is that they subtly mess with how you react to food.
Sometimes it's a mind game. For instance, diet sodas can cloud common sense, making you think your no-cal drink "cancels out" the fat calories in burgers and fries.
Sometimes they make you eat more, not less. Because no-cal sweeteners essentially don't register in your brain's satiety center, instead of satisfying a sweet craving they can send you hunting for more sugary snacks ... and then more sugary snacks. They also train your taste buds to go PING only when they detect intense sweetness.
Sometimes there's something going on no one even understands yet. Recent Texas research has linked drinking diet soda to bigger waists—70 percent bigger than in people who didn't touch the stuff. "Huh?" That's what we said. More to come on this. But Dr. Mike, who used to drink a daily diet cola (or six), is glad he gave 'em all up over a year ago.