When thinking of foods that provoke an unhealthy psychological response (including cravings), sugar comes to mind first. Because the sweetness of sugar is addictive, eating an excess amount is easy. The more we eat, the more we get acclimated to high levels, and the more we want. Artificial sweeteners are also commonly problematic, as they are hundreds of times sweeter than the sugar found in nature but lack any genuine nutritional qualities.
Added sugars are one of the quickest and easiest foods to provoke an unhealthy hormonal response, causing disruptions in leptin and insulin levels, primary reliance on sugar as fuel, and accumulation of lipids in the liver, bloodstream, and on the body (as body fat). This drives systemic inflammation, a major risk factor for many lifestyle diseases and conditions. In addition, these sugars are calorie-dense, but nutritionally barren — the very definition of “empty calories.”
Sugar (and studies suggest some artificial sweeteners) also disrupt the environment in our gut, specifically altering the delicate balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. This condition (called dysbiosis) can lead to digestive distress and inflammatory symptoms like fatigue, body aches, and joint problems, and can worsen pre-existing inflammatory or autoimmune conditions.
Numerous studies have associated the use of various artificial sweeteners with various health conditions, including cancer, migraines, autoimmune conditions, and neurotoxicity. There have not been enough long-term studies on humans to definitively confirm these associations or prove a causative relationship, but we recommend a cautious approach when confronted with data that suggests there may be a problem. With potential downsides and no significant advantages, we recommend avoiding non-caloric sweeteners in general.