In a desperate bid to appear socially responsible and to meet government recommendations manufacturers are rushing to reduce sugar in their products. This is admirable, but a worrying trend is emerging. Sugar content is being lowered but more artificial sweeteners are being added.

Despite the controversial nature of these sweeteners, they are set to become a larger feature in the diets of the supermarket shopping population. They will feature more heavily in the diets of children, who remain vulnerable to their negative effects.

Here  I’m not going to focus on the possible neurotoxic effects of aspartame. Although if you’re looking for a good reason not to give your children soft drinks – that’s a really good one! Here, I’m questioning whether the reduction of sugar and addition of sweeteners in foods will help stem the obesity epidemic.

These sweeteners do little to curb our ancestral urge for sweetness. They exacerbate our appetite for sweet-tasting foods, keeping us hooked on foods that are ‘bad’ for us. Researchers looking into the effects of artificial sweeteners found that consumption led to an increase in markers associated with obesity. They affect glucose tolerance which can lead to the metabolic issues we are trying to address. In fact, sweeteners raise blood glucose more than sugar itself, bringing with it the possibility of insulin resistance. Leading to obesity, diabetes, and on it goes …..

What is interesting to me as a practitioner working on the link between our gut microbes and our wider health, is that those subjects who consumed sweeteners had a different bacterial composition in their gut than those that didn’t. An altered gut flora has been implicated in obesity, autism, sensory disorders and anxiety – and this is just scratching the surface. The study of the human microbiome is a blossoming field and there is a lot more to learn about the health implications of unbalanced gut flora.

Before we fully understand the full physiological effects of artificial sweeteners they are being added to more and more food products. Manufacturers are trying to design something that will make their food more appealing to consumers and the government but they are misguided. We should remember the attempt to stem the rise in heart disease by designing a butter alternative – margarine. Another misguided, manufactured product. Let’s not repeat history.

We seem to be moving further away from the real solution to obesity and health issues. We need to take care of our own health, instead of relying on supermarkets and food manufacturers to do it for us. The solution is simpler than you think – just eat real food.