Artificial sweeteners can now be found in thousands of products from ‘diet’ sodas, to ‘diet’ foods, to no sugar, low sugar, desserts, yogurts, chewing gum, and even some low fat products.
One of the proposed benefits of using artificial sweeteners is they help to lower your calorie intake. One teaspoon of sugar is 16 calories, while the equivalent in artificial sweetener is zero. And we still get to enjoy the sweet taste that us human beings seem to LOVE so much right?!
But are artificial sweeteners bad for diabetes?
The American Diabetes Association recommends the use of artificial sweeteners, so does Diabetes Australia and UK, and dietitians commonly promote their use as well.
This was on the American Diabetes Association page about artificial sweeteners.
But do they really curb cravings? And how exactly do they affect us or diabetes?
Let’s turn to the science and see what it has to say.
What Are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners can also be called high-intensity sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners, and non-caloric sweeteners.
The main artificial sweeteners available are:
Saccharin – one of the oldest artificial sweeteners discovered in 1879.
In the 1970s and 80s there were some studies that showed saccharin caused cancer in rats. As a result there was a temporary warning put on labels but this was later removed as further studies suggested this cancer was not applicable to humans. There is still limited research available so this could be questionable.
Brand names: Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, Necta Sweet.
Aspartame – discovered in 1965, approved in 1981. Interestingly, all food industry funded studies show that aspartame is safe. But most independent studies show it has adverse health effects such as headaches, Alzheimer’s, attention deficit disorders, cancer, diabetes, and lupus. There have been over 10,000 consumer complaints lodged to the FDA in regard to aspartame. Questionable?? I’d say yes.
Brands: Equal, Nutrasweet, Natra Taste.
Acesulfame-K – discovered in 1967. The toxicity of acesulfame-K is still largely unknown because there has been no further testing since it’s introduction in 1970. Back then the standard criteria for designing toxicity studies was still being defined.
Brands: Sunette, Sweet One, Swiss Sweet.
Sucralose – discovered in 1976, approved for use in food products in 1998. Studies have shown it has adverse effects on gut bacteria, gut barrier function and digestive enzymes but overall it has been shown to be the least toxic and probably the safest choice when it comes to artificial sweeteners.
Helps You Lose Weight…Does It?
Artificial sweeteners were largely introduced to help deal with the growing problem in overweight and obesity but when it comes to the evidence it just doesn’t stack up. There is little support to show that consuming them leads to weight loss.
In fact, what most of the research shows is the opposite effect.
Artificial sweeteners can increase risk of excessive weight gain.
Other risks associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners
Research has shown increased risk for:
- Metabolic syndrome – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, high blood glucose
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
Artificial Sweeteners and Gut Bacteria
A growing area of nutrition research right now is in the area of gut microbiota, or gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria are very important to being healthy. We have trillions of them in our digestive tract and the types of gut bacteria we have contribute to our metabolism, immune system, and the rate of inflammation in our body.
There is evidence that shows that artificial sweeteners alter the gut bacteria, increasing the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria, which can increase overeating, and impair blood glucose regulation.
Yes, that’s right, our gut bacteria play a role in glucose metabolism and regulation.
So instead of being ‘safe’ for blood sugar, in some cases blood glucose levels increase when consuming artificial sweeteners. It is not uncommon for people with diabetes to see a spike in blood sugar levels when they have artificial sweeteners.
This is because the sense of taste still activates the pathways of metabolism that eating sugar does. This process causes an imbalance of hormonal and neurological responses that has the opposite effect to what we might expect.
So Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad For Diabetes?
The evidence isn’t compelling enough to recommend them, therefore we generally encourage people to choose more natural sugar substitutes where the evidence for safety is better.
As for you, of course it is your choice and if you are going to include them, keep them to a minimum. And like all foods and beverages, test, test, test and see how it affects your own blood sugar levels.
Just remember though, if it doesn’t affect your blood sugar it still doesn’t make them safe, since there are studies that suggest they are not truly ‘safe’.
Wishing you the best in health 🙂
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Swithers S. Artificial sweeteners are not the answer to childhood obesity. Appetite. 2015.
Swithers et al. Experience with the high-intensity sweetener saccharin impairs glucose homeostasis and GLP-1 release in rats. Behavioural Brain Research. 2012;233:1– 14.
Pearlman et al. 2017. The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2017 Nov 21;19(12):64.
Gardener et al. Artificial sweeteners, real risks. Stroke. 2019 Mar; 50(3): 549–551.