We live in a crazy age in which some people who don't eat meat fill up on high-sodium soy products that pretend to be meat and in which some people who go sugar-free saturate themselves with artificial sweeteners. In one recent report, you were told that sucralose-the artificial sweetener marketed as Splenda-interferes with insulin secretion and glucose metabolism. That report knocked sucralose out of the water as a sweet alternative for people who need to keep their blood sugar in check. Now, a more recent study has found that the problem is much broader-it goes well beyond Splenda-and the study also got to the bottom of what exactly you're doing to your body when you opt for artificial sweeteners.

The Sugar-Free Truth

After decades of thinking that artificial sweeteners were the answer to weight and sugar control, nutritionists and scientists are now realizing that it's not so. Sucralose isn't the only culprit-and glucose intolerance (a reduced ability to remove sugar from the blood) is not the only damage caused by artificial sweeteners. No-calorie artificial sweeteners in general have been linked to weight gain, as illogical as that sounds. And if you are thinking that folks who drink diet soda gain weight because they otherwise load up on other sugary foods, that's not so, says the research.

So, how do you get fat on sugar-free edibles? That part of the research equation wasn't clear until Israeli scientists discovered what artificial sweeteners do to the gut microbiome-the galaxy of bacteria that live in the gut, aid digestion and play a big role in whether someone is healthy.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments that began with mice.. Some mice were fed water spiked with one of three different artificial sweeteners-saccharin, sucralose or aspartame. Then these mice were compared with mice fed either plain water or sugar water.

Result: Glucose intolerance developed within 11 weeks in the mice given each of the artificial sweeteners. Meanwhile, the mice given plain water-and even those given sugar water-were just fine.

Why that's bad: Glucose intolerance can lead to prediabetes.

When the researchers delved into whether the gut microbiome had something to do with these findings, they discovered that it sure did. Mice treated with antibiotics to wipe out their gut microbiomes didn't become glucose intolerant when fed artificial sweeteners because the artificial sweetener had nothing to react with once it hit the gut. But water-fed mice that lost their microbiomes became glucose intolerant when gut bacteria from mice fed artificial sweeteners was transplanted into them to repopulate their microbiomes.

Translation: The artificial sweeteners transformed the gut microbiomes to include a very unhealthful mixture of organisms.

Mice are mice, but what about people? Experiments in humans delivered the same results. The researchers already knew, from an earlier study they had done, that nondiabetic people who consumed artificial sweeteners were more likely than people who didn't use artificial sweeteners to gain weight and show signs of impaired glucose tolerance. They reconnected with a portion of those study participants to examine their microbiomes. Sure enough, just as in the mice, the microbiomes of people who consumed artificial sweeteners were altered compared with the microbiomes of people who didn't touch fake sugar.

Sugar-Free Challenge

Going sugar-free but then consuming edibles that mimic or try to taste exactly like the food and drink you give up is the kind of trickery where the joke is on you. Not only are you not losing weight from substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners, you're training your body to be diabetic! There is a much better way. You can retrain your taste buds to simply stop craving or expecting sugary flavors. Check out "Kick the Sugar Habit" on page 316. It provides information on how to detox from sugary-tasting foods and build a satisfying sugar-free, weight-conscious diet. That's true freedom from sugar.

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