From Whole9, as a preface to our Manifesto series:
As we wrote in It Starts With Food, “We have a theory about food that directly influences the rest of this book. The food that you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options.”
Of course, we spend the rest of the book explaining why a concept that sounds so simple is not that simple at all in practice. That’s why our Good Food recommendations are based on not just one foundation, but a combination of three:
Based on the science as we understand it today, and our clinical experience with the tens of thousands of people who have completed our Whole30 program, we make some general recommendations as to which food groups may make you less healthy—including sugar and artificial sweeteners. Below, we’ll outline the basics of our case against consumption of added sugars in any form as part of your daily diet. But until you undertake your own self-experiment (via the Whole30) for yourself, you’ll never know for sure how consumption of added sugars are affecting how you look, how you feel, and your quality of life.
Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
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.
It Starts With Food
These manifestos are not intended to be a comprehensive dissertation of our research or recommendations. For more information on the psychological impact of our food choices, the effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners on health, and scientific references used to support our position, please refer to our book, It Starts With Food.
To educate yourself on all the different names for “sugar” found on food and drink labels, download our free Guide to Sneaky Sugars.