23/09/2014 13:18 BST | Updated 23/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Artificial Sweeteners - Good or Bad?


Hands-up anyone who hasn't spotted that sugar is the new bad guy on the block! No-one?!

Fat was previously the demon when it came to health and weight - now it seems that fat isn't as bad as we thought and sugar is the peril that we now have to avoid.

Of course, it is no one thing that is turning us into a nation of people struggling to do up the buttons on their waistbands. With two thirds of us overweight and a quarter obese, we have to look at our portion control, processed food intake and activity levels too if we are to steer clear of the many illnesses associated with being overweight. We may therefore be thinking that we are doing the right thing in choosing drinks and snacks that are sugar-free... sweetened instead with one of the many sugar-substitutes that are flooding our supermarket shelves.

A new study, recently published in Nature, however, casts doubts on that decision. It shows that artificial sweeteners can lead to glucose intolerance in mice... a feature associated with Type 2 diabetes. It appeared that this was mediated by changing the normal bacteria in our intestine - the so-called gut flora. A very small study conducted on humans seemed to show a similar outcome.

This study adds to the literature that suggests that artificial sweeteners may be having more of an effect on our bodies than we thought - and not necessarily helping us to lose weight anyway as some studies actually show weight gain with the use of these sweeteners. Even the so-called natural sweeteners have raised concerns for various reasons.

The studies remain confusing and conflicting and we urgently need more research to answer the many questions that are being raised.

My answer to the sugar or sweeteners question is simple.

Neither, wherever possible!

Let's stop thinking about the risks of tooth decay, weight-gain, diabetes and other problems from sugar and whether these risks are reduced by using sugar-substitutes. Let's not have to worry about whether these products have their own long-term health risks that haven't yet been identified.

Instead, let's try to ditch the sweet tooth. In the same way as our palate has been trained to expect less salt by a gradual reduction in the saltiness of manufactured food, we can slowly but surely cut down on sugar in our food and drink so that we no longer crave that intense sweetness that we have all become accustomed too. Not only will we have a more sensitive palate that can appreciate subtle flavours but we will spare ourselves the concern of the sugar versus sweetener debate - and almost certainly be slimmer and healthier to boot.

That's a pretty sweet thought!