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I was told that one problem with many sugar substitutes is that the body thinks they are sugar, and the processes that it uses to absorb sugar from the blood stream are therefore triggered. This means that although sugar-free soda does not add sugar to the blood stream, it makes the body absorb more of the sugar that is in the blood stream already, thus negating (some of) the benefits of using a sugar substitute. Is there any truth to this?

Note that this is not about the overall usefulness of sugar substitutes, I am interested in whether this very particular effect is real.

  • I don't think you can get a "real" answer here, but I do not agree with this hypothesis. Most of the research trying to damn aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have been extremely biased, with the researchers rigging their experiments to produce the desired outcomes. – BillDOe May 9 '17 at 19:40
  • I avoid overtly biased sources (no, I don't believe the aspartame-cancer link, either). This was from a conversation with a friend who tends to be reliable in these matters, at least on the basic concepts. – Henry Stone May 9 '17 at 21:46
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Studies have shown that simply seeing sweet foods (without even eating them) can cause your body to release insulin. This abstract of a review paper includes the sentence:

high acute levels of insulin can be produced by simply seeing and thinking about food and that individuals showing this response show a greater tendency toward weight gain in a food-abundant environment.

Therefore it stands to reason that eating sugar free sweet foods can have the same effect. Whether this then leads to you getting more energy from the other food you have eaten I do not know, but the abstract covers other studies that directly connect these reactions to weight gain due to the next thing you eat.

I long ago observed for myself that if I had sweetener in my early-morning coffee, when the coffee cart came around (a thing that used to happen in offices in the 80s) I was unable to resist having a bun or muffin with my mid-morning coffee. But if I had a teaspoon of sugar in that morning coffee, I could last till lunch with no buns or muffins. The net savings of sugar and fat was definitely on the side of sugar in my coffee. Your physiology may vary, but science says my observation was real.

However, your summary "the body thinks they are sugar" is probably not supported. Rather, the mind thinks they are sugar and things go from there.

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I wasn't going to try to answer this because I thought any possible answers would be essentially opinion-based, but it seems to me much of the so-called research as been just that.

Aspartame is made from and breaks down into two common amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine) and a very small amount of methanol (wood alcohol)1, which is well tolerated in small amounts2.

If this hypothesis were true, then any combinations of these compounds should produce the same result. I haven't seen any research that suggests this is true.

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