I’ve lost count of the number of corporate nutrition clients who, in their first week of reducing their sugar intake, have opted for a ‘diet’ coke, or ‘slimline’ tonic in the belief that this is better than the ‘full sugar’ version.

And who could blame them?

The advertising for Diet Coke, sugar-free gum and other sweets, mints especially, and even sugar free desserts positions them very cleverly as the ‘healthier’ option. Understandably most people opt for the ‘artificial sweetener’ version of a food, in the belief that they are making the best choice.

They’re supposed to make you slimmer, right?

You might be a little surprised if I tell you that one of the 92 documented side effects of aspartame (the most commonly used sweetener in food) is:


That’s right.

Of all the artificial sweeteners out there, aspartame tastes pretty decent. It’s sweet (in fact: 200x sweeter than sugar!), and it really does have zero calories. But as those of you who’ve worked with me for a while understand, calories can be a bit of a red herring – just a tiny, tiny part of the story.

So what’s the story?

Although aspartame has managed to remain on the “legal” list of food additives since the 1980’s, an increasing number of studies have questioned its safety: 10% of aspartame is actually methanol (and sucralose -ie Spenda- contains chlorine. Not really chemicals we should be adding to our cups of tea.) One study that followed nearly 500 elderly people for 9.5 years found that those who drank diet beverages saw their waist circumference increase by an impressive 70% more than those who didn’t (and those who drank 2 diet drinks a day had increases of 500% more!).*


It seems that one of the main reasons Aspartame can cause you to gain weight is that it raises blood sugar levels. (Remember the link there with insulin rising and turning on the fat switch?)

Another thing aspartame does is desensitize the tongue to sugar so that it takes more sugar to make something taste sweet (not surprising if it’s 200x sweeter than sugar..)

And would you like to know of some of its other more common effects?

OK. Here goes:

  • impaired vision
  • tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in ears)
  • noise intolerance
  • epileptic seizures
  • migraines
  • memory loss
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • phobias
  • weight gain!! (did I mention that?)

So what’s the answer?

I’m afraid there’s only one true answer to the sugar question: gradually but surely reduce it in our diets and gradually but surely retrain our taste buds (and metabolism) to do with much less.
Yes, it can be a tough process.

It can mean a couple of weeks with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

And of course, it means months of retraining in the right food habits, so that they become second nature.

In my experience, there are no shortcuts, although I would say that if you eat super nutritious food whilst saying goodbye to sugar, you will definitely find the process a lot easier.

And consider the upside…

The end of cravings, the dramatic lowering of health risks (diabetes, heart disease, cancer…), a diminishing waistline AND taste buds going back to normal…

And for companies offering their staff the support to make these changes through employee nutrition programmes, a more positive, healthier workforce.

Well worth the effort. Wouldn’t you agree?

* To read more information on these studies, click here

Author: Angela Steel