The “Additive Effect”: Artificial is NOT Intelligent

Pop-tarts, Doritos, Go-gurt, Vitamin Water…  The grocery store is loaded with artificially flavored, sweetened, and colored ‘franken-foods’ and we’re eating them up!  Waistlines continue expanding and the obesity epidemic is out of control.  What’s behind the increasing “weight of the world”?  Is it EPIC portions, constant access to food, lack of activity or could it be something deeper than all of that?  Maybe the amount of food or the lack of activity alone aren’t the only culprits here.

In the most recent edition of Robb’s newsletter, I covered “The Myth of the Acceptable Paleo Sweetener”, (long story short – no dice).  This is a topic that gets brought up over and over again – what about agave? honey? coconut sugar? stevia?  You name it – everyone wants a taste of the sweet stuff without facing up to potential health ramifications.  Anyway, as a result of this newsletter we received an email from Joshua (a BIG Thank You to Joshua!!) that just adds to the argument that sweeteners (even artificial and calorie free varieties), and other food additives are NOT innocent regardless of what you might have been led to believe.  Joshua’s note linked to a recent article in the University of Boston’s newsletter the Bostonian; “Why We Are Fat”

The article’s featured researcher, Barbara Corkey states:  

“I don’t believe that overeating causes obesity,” says Corkey flatly. “During my lifetime I have seen tremendous differences in food preparation and food packaging….When that novelty is associated with an increase in obesity and diabetes, is it rocket science to ask whether these things are related?”

This thinking has led her to explore the effect that today’s food additives have on fat, liver and pancreatic beta cell tissues.  And hold onto your cape Batman!! It seems that there is more to the development of Type 2 Diabetes and obesity than ‘fast foodification’ and  ‘butt – couch adhesion’.  So far the research has identified monoglycerides (emulsifiers found in cereal, ice cream, nut butters, and baked foods) and saccharin (an artificial, calorie free sweetener – Sweet n’ Low) as being potential contributors to ‘Diabesity’.

We know that the beta cells in the pancreas secrete insulin in response to an increase in blood glucose levels.  Under ‘normal’ circumstances (and this is the highly simplified, cut to the chase version) in the beta cells, voltage-gated calcium channels are activated in response to an increased ATP:ADP ratio and the closing of ATP-gated potassium channels.  The activated calcium channels let calcium into the cells.  This triggers the production and export of insulin.  When the beta cells are ‘working’ they also require more oxygen in order to function.  That was a BRIEF and SIMPLE explanation of what ‘normally’ occurs.  Now, let’s see what happens when monoglycerides and saccharin ‘storm the fort’.  Instead of the ‘normal’ activation of calcium channels, increased oxygen consumption and release of insulin, the beta cells seem to get a little ‘loopy’ (like too much weed or something), they start releasing reactive oxygen species (ROS).  ROS have been linked to inflammation, cell damage, cancer and obesity.  All this craziness because of two FDA ‘generally regarded as safe’ (GRAS) additives are present.  Things the make you go hmmm…

There is the likelihood that in ‘small’ amounts or consumed ‘infrequently’ some stevia, or other artificial sweetener might be fine – but in small and infrequent quantities plain old caloric sweeteners can be acceptable also.  Keep in mind that even though a sweetener is calorie free, it doesn’t mean that you’re off the ‘insulin response’ hook.  Here are just a few examples of research that tells us otherwise  example 1example 2example 3.   Remember insulin secretion is not something we want happening at high frequency – rather only when and in quantities needed following a meal!

The moral of this story:  It’s a ‘bitter’ truth.  There is NO 100%, put me in your coffee, eat me everyday sweetener.  Is a ‘sane’ indulgence from time to time acceptable?  Heck yes!  But daily ingestion of sweeteners, calorie free sweeteners, and processed additive laden foods are not part of the “Paleo Solution”.  Make your future a ‘sweet’ one – stick with real, whole foods and give up the search for the ‘golden ticket’ to Candy Land.

If it sounds too good to be ‘Tru’via – it probably is!

Categories: Paleo Diet Basics, Paleo/Low Carb, Weight Loss


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. Wayne D Johnson says

    While I would never say that artificial sweeteners are good for, it seems to me that you are a bit guilty of cherry picking in your selection of studies. Secondly, the studies you cite don’t seem to address your point as directly as they might.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Wayne, there is a lot of research out on both sides – overall point is the fake stuff is not the solution to our sugar addictions! Ultimately, although you would think that non-nutritive artificial sweeteners should not directly cause insulin resistance they do illicit an insulin response and they definitely play the same trick on the brain and body as fructose and other nutritive sweeteners do – feeding addictions to the ‘sweet stuff’. Additionally, long term effects are unknown in most cases. Best advice – don’t rely on this stuff, every once and a while okay – but not everyday!

      • Barrie Templeton says

        I think most people are fooled by the correlation of diet drinks and overweight/obese people. The assumption is that people with a weight “problem” begin to drink diet (whatever) to reduce calorie intake – after all, that’s what all the advertising suggests. But actually, it appears that the substances used to, in theory, fool the body, actually only trick the mind of the consumer of the products. The body’s physiology reads the artificial sweetener as the real thing, despite its lack of caloric attachment, and triggers the insulin response. The ultimate result is a worsening of the weight issues. So consumption of diet drinks, as well as other low-calorie foods, actually aggravates a weight problem.
        Add to that the increase of “low-fat” food products, which of course have additional sweeteners to offset the missing fat, and we are being attacked on two flanks.
        A start for us all is to avois soft drinks altogether, diet or otherwise. Of course, there are lots of other ways to reduce sugar intake, but each of us has to do in his/her own way.
        It’s great to see some scientific corroboration of my own suppositions.

  2. says

    Right Amy! Its not just calories, there is a whole complex cascade of hormonal response to food which affects all the may things your body might do with it once you eat it. I think of my food as fuel and medicine, NOT a treat, reward, or recreational drug. That has been key to helping me make good choices long term. Feeling as though you are somehow missing out in life if you dont get sweets, or that you are entitled to a “treat” is a mindset that sets you up for failure.

      • says

        I understand what your saying, Robb . I was just nitpicking regarding ” you should not think of food as a reward or treat.” if you do not eat food for enjoyment, occasionly , then why make complicated recipes that make food enjoyable when you could just eat bland slow cooked meat that would have the same health benefits? It’s a bit like saying, ” I don’t have sex for fun, I just do it to procreate,” or for me, that’s just sad. Does that make sense?

        • Amy Kubal says

          You should NEVER eat food you don’t enjoy – a big part of eating is pleasure. Enjoy every bite. That doesn’t necessarily mean adding sugar or sweetener to every cup of coffee you drink. Train your taste buds to enjoy the food for ‘the food’ not the accessories… It’s like saying, I have sex for the fuzzy handcuffs…

    • paleoslayer says

      the right combination of foods and spices can make paleo foods out of this world. I’m not a big into fish, but a little green onion, butter, garlic and touch of jalapeno,.. mmm mmm. Another one, poached duck eggs over salmon w spinach and side of bacon, sometimes s.potato- i could eat it every day!

  3. Martin says

    Gary Taubes mentions repetitively populations who were poor, had no access to modern packaged and processed food, eat very unrewarding foods and were fat and sick.

    • says

      C’mon… There is more than one way to become (and stay) obese. The paleo template offers everyone a healthy alternative to conventional wisdom. This article is simply disecting some of the pitfalls that await us in modern civilization.

      Instead of zooming in for a closer disection, zoom out and look at the bigger picture.

      • Martin says

        Sure, but there is a difference between the cause, and circumstances that lead the cause. If we allow for all such circumstances to be given the status of different causes, we could e.g. postulate that: one of the causes of obesiy is getting dumped, which in some individuals leads to depression, overeating, etc.

        Anyone would come up with their own individual causes: stress at work, divorce, social preasure, positive associationed related to sugar carried over from childhood, etc. And this would violate the Occam’s razor (as the food reward hypothesis does, by the way).

        But yes, I am willing to zoom maximally out: foods with (anti-)nutrient composition different than what we evolved to eat leads to disease and obesity.

        And then zooming maximally in, there is one cause: the leaking gut +inflammation leading to insulin resistance, as Robb postulates, or vice versa.

        One of the initial advantages of Paleo was simplicity. This idea is still conveyed in the documentary “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet”. I think we should keep it this way.

  4. erikJ says

    Seems to me that we are hardwired to want sweet foods. Like it’s programmed in our bodies to seek out sweet foods because in nature they usually indicate high calories, which could have meant survival. However these foods were scarce and at best only found a few times a year. I.e Honey from a hive full of angry bees, or the random fruit tree that happened to have edible fruit that didn’t taste like ___*. Not like now were you can get something ten times sweeter than anything found in nature on pretty much any street corner in America. While i don’t have any problem with the idea that there are hormonal landslides when we eat sweets, Obviously important, I do wonder if the term addiction is fair when we are all born addicts and surrounded by our addictions. Is sex an addiction? We don’t want Paleo to become a giant AA meeting do we? Seems we have to acknowledge our cravings, and through discipline and knowledge just make the best choices we can. Sorry for the ramble.

  5. says

    I completely agree that additives and sweeteners are not optimal for health, but I find it unlikely that the resulting insulin spikes are to blame for obesity. It is important to remember that everything from chocolate, to black coffee, to protein causes an insulin spike. Even extremely insulinogenic BCAA’s improve insulin sensitivity.

    Will black coffee make you fat? Well, I drink about 3-5 cups a day and I’m at 7% bodyfat, and I supplement with insulinogenic BCAA’s. Not only that but I eat around 350 grams of starch twice a week as a carb refeed. You can see on my website that despite all the insulin I am very lean.

    On the other hand, fructose is extremely sweet, it causes a negligible insulin spike, and is likely responsible for most metabolic disorders.

    Insulin is dangerous when and only when insulin resistance causes chronically high levels insulin. We don’t need to demonize insulin or foods that cause insulin spikes, but foods, and more importantly habits and behaviors, that cause insulin resistance.

    • Martin says

      >> Insulin is dangerous when and only when insulin resistance
      >> causes chronically high levels insulin.

      And what about the time just before one gets insulin resistant when due to too much sugar in the diet more and more insulin needs to be released? The cells are still doing fine but soon they will become resistant.

      Is excess insuline NOT dangerous then?

    • Amy Kubal says

      If it tastes sweet it contributes to the cravings and drive for more sweet. Sometimes is okay – just don’t rely on it!

  6. GB says

    For one deeply in the arms of metabolic syndrome, regular heavy use of artificial sweeteners are an obstacle to becoming insulin and leptin sensitive. I watch a very sweet addicted person every day bemoan the fact that she isn’t losing weight.
    Diabetic, metformin and lisenopril. Needs to lose another 100#. Leaving sweet behind has deep seated barriers.
    I try to lead by example with paleo.
    It IS an addiction.

  7. Michelle says

    In my experience, the cravings for sweets was stopped just by having zero sweets. I used to absolutely live on candy, and counted the days to other people’s birthdays and weddings so I could have the anticipated CAKE. I couldn’t get under 200# on Atkins because I kept eating fake chocolates and soda. Only after eliminating sugar (and grains of course) did all the desire for them go away. I am averse to cake and candy now and have lost 111 pounds and counting. I strongly recommend just getting “sweet” – whether real or chemical – out of the diet altogether if one is fat and/or insulin resistant or if one just feels like a prisoner to sweets cravings. Just my .02.

  8. George says

    And just like any other addicts….the fight and resentment can be felt in these posts once the mere IDEA of taking ARTIFICIAL sweeteners and additives out of ones diet. I would hate to see what would happen if some of these posters had their ACTUAL sugar taken away. Look it’s simple- taste sweet- want more sweet. It’s a Dopamine release- aka heroin/cocaine addicts stuff. You are just hitting the Dopamine button. A treat should be a ONCE in a while. Seeking pleasure in something you do 3-4X a day (eating) is not normal. We breathe- we eat- we don’t seek pleasure in our foods at every turn- it’s abnormal. Amy and Rob- nice work! Keep up the battle against a food industry that is slowly plumping us into a well preserved and unhealthy life.

  9. George says

    Oh and what an awesome new scam errr I mean product to add to my water- MIO!!! What’s in Mio you ask? Well read ahead – make sure you read the last part of this awesome product-
    Each of MiO’s nine flavors is:

    Calorie-free per 8 fluid ounce serving
    Carbohydrate-free and considered a free exchange
    Free of artificial flavors

    MiO is sweetened with sucralose, a calorie-free, artificial sweetener that is 600 times sweeter than sugar. To maintain color and freshness, MiO does use certain preservatives and artificial colorings.

    Wow that’s awesome 600X sweeter- and there IS preservatives and artificial coloring ? WINNER!

  10. J says

    Great write up!
    Quick question I’m confused about:

    “So far the research has identified monoglycerides (emulsifiers found in cereal, ice cream, not butters, and baked foods) and saccharin (an artificial, calorie free sweetener – Sweet n’ Low) as being potential contributors to ‘Diabesity’.”

    is that supposed to be ‘nut butters’?

  11. KZ says

    Great article! I have found since going Paleo, that normal, good foods now taste sweet to me. I am amazed at the sweetness of a plain berry or even a raw cashew.

  12. Mat says

    Its n=1 so take it with a grain of salt, but despite using liberal amounts of noncaloric and a few grams of caloric sweeteners per day, i dropped from 15 to 10% bodyfat since i started eating slightly less than usual, about 2200 instead of 2500 kcal per day. Mostly lowcarb, paleo-ish (lots of meat and vegetables). Weight lifted stayed constant or slightly improved during this time.

  13. Nicole says

    It’s unfortunate you had to toss honey onto that list, or at least neglected to differentiate between conventionally produced and raw; I feel it tarnishes the rest of what you say, however accurate it may be. The benefits of raw, unadulterated honey are numerous and the research I have read has led me to believe it is a worthy addition to one’s regular diet (not in excess, by any means, of course) and is not something to be feared, vilified, or demonized.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Nicole! Some honey every once and a while is great. The ultimate message here is that if it tastes sweet there WILL be an insulin response and regardless of the source sweet tasting foods make us want more sweet tasting foods. From health, longevity and weight control standpoints the best idea is to consume sweet foods infrequently and when you do ENJOY them!!

  14. Alan says

    IMO sugar is definitely an addictive substance for most people most of the time. The addiction (as all addictions do) feeds the illusion that this moment/this feeling is not OK and perhaps will never pass, so to change the internal environment go for the dopamine fix…”ahh, I am in control… again!” Perhaps thinking of sugar as a metaphysical attachment that has profound effects on our physiology will help in seeing sugar through a larger/deeper lens. Most Overeaters Anonymous members quickly identify sugar or carbs in general as their major focus and work to define what sobriety is around these foods.

    Sugar Haiku

    Now, sugar compels
    Feeding illusion – separateness
    Quick high, body karma

  15. Erika says

    Perhaps if I read into the site more, I’d find this answer – but I stumbled here through a friend’s link and don’t know much about the paleo diet at all.

    1) Does fresh fruit count as that sweet?
    and 2) How might a vegetarian do paleo?


    • Amy Kubal says


      Fruit is a sugar source but it also comes with nutrients and the concentration of the sugar is generally lower than that of other sugar sources. It really depends on your goals, and if you do or do not have a tendency to overdo the sweet stuff – READ: ADDICTION…

      As far as a paleo vegetarian – not so much. But you can clean up your diet for sure. Here’s a good post from the Whole9er’s about the vegetarian deal:

  16. says

    It was amazing to me the difference in my cravings when I gave up artificial sweeteners. Especially diet soda. Got ride of the diet soda and all the sweet cravings went away and it was a difficult thing to do. What amazes me is I have an occasional full sugar soda and it still doesn’t send me on the sweet cravings like the artificial sweetener does but one Diet Mt Dew and I’m craving ice cream and honey buns almost immediately.

  17. Roddy says

    According to the study, stevia seemed to be the best bet. I’m wondering if the response would have differed all of that much when compared to a no sweetener group.

    “Stevia preloads significantly reduced postprandial glucose levels compared to sucrose preloads (p < .01), and postprandial insulin levels compared to both aspartame and sucrose preloads (p < .05). When consuming stevia and aspartame preloads, participants did not compensate by eating more at either their lunch or dinner meal and reported similar levels of satiety compared to when they consumed the higher calorie sucrose preload."

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