Artificial sweeteners, good or bad for your health, are always a debatable subject. Some studies support while; others say it’s bad. It offers an alternative solution for people who do not want excess calories but have a sweet tooth.
Let us understand in detail the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners.
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweetener is commonly known as a sugar substitute or intense sweetener. It is a chemical that is used to sweeten food and beverages. These sweeteners are several times sweeter than sugar but add no calories virtually to the body. As you only need a potion to add compared to sugar for sweetness.
The sweeteners have higher sweetener potency. Some research shows that it is as high as 200-13000 times sweeter than regular sugar and is used to flavor the food and beverages.
It is widely used in processed food such as soft drinks and other beverages, canned foods, candies, jams and jellies, puddings, dairy products, etc.
Common Artificial Sweeteners
There are 7 artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA and are accepted worldwide.
- Aspartame: It is sold under brand names like NutraSweet, Equal, or Sugar Twin. It is 200 times sweeter than normal sugar.
- Acesulfame Potassium or Acesulfame K: It is sold as Sunnet, Sweet One, and is more suitable for cooking and baking. It is also 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
- Advantame: It is also used for cooking and baking and is 20,000 sweeter than sugar.
- Neotame: It is available in the market under the brand name Newtame. You can use this for cooking, baking, etc. It is 13,000 times sweeter.
- Aspartame-Acesulfame Salt. It is 350 times sweeter and is sold as Twinsweet.
- Saccharin: It is sold as Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin, or Necta Sweet and is 700 times sweeter than normal sugar.
- Sucralose: It is sold as the brand name Splenda and is 600 times sweeter. It is suitable for cooking, baking, and mixing with acidic foods.
Sweetener Cyclamate and Neohesperidin are also common in some places. But both of them are banned in the US.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for You?
Artificial sweeteners may be low in calories, but consuming large quantities isn’t good for the body. It may harm your health. Many studies support this claim.
Studies show that consuming more artificial sweeteners can increase your appetite instead of decreasing it. It sends the signal to the brain to activate the appetite level. You can have sugar cravings and increase your hunger level.
Poorly Regulated Blood Sugar
Artificial sweeteners do not increase blood sugar levels but can increase insulin levels in the blood. This can confuse the pancreas due to its sweet taste. And the pancreas can release insulin as a response to lower the sugar level.
This can further lead to type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance due to decreased insulin receptor activity.
Risk for Stroke and Dementia
Some research suggests that people consuming a higher level of artificial sweeteners have a higher risk of stroke or dementia.
Risk for Metabolic Syndrome
As per the studies, consuming sweeteners can develop metabolic syndrome and lead to significant health issues like heart diseases, diabetes, and stroke.
Altered Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome reacts differently to artificial sweeteners. It can shift the population of gut microbiota and can lead to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis imbalances the good and bad bacteria in the gut and can raise many health problems.
Artificial Sweeteners Alternative Food List
According to research, artificial sweeteners aren’t that good for your health . They can stimulate your appetite and trigger your sweet tooth to consume more sweets. This may further increase the risk for fatty liver, heart disease, etc.
Here’s the alternate sweetener which you can consume.
Fresh or Frozen Fruit: It is one of the easiest ways to sweeten your food or drink without increasing calorie intake.
Example: You can add banana to oatmeal to give a sweeter taste. Add berries to Greek yogurt and frozen fruit to smoothies.
Sugar Substitutes: Stevia is recommended by many dieticians as a sugar substitute. It is herbal and extracted from leaves, and has zero calories.
You can mix 1tsp to make it sweet and enjoy a low-carb dessert guilt-free.
Natural Sugar: Some natural sugar that can be used instead of refined sugar are raw honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and raw sugar.
Both raw honey and maple syrup contain antioxidants and prebiotics that feed your gut. Raw honey also has vitamin E, and C. Infants should avoid consuming raw honey and maple syrup.
Agave nectar can flavor a lot of food dishes. It should be used in small quantities only.
Refined Sugar: Some studies suggest that refined sugar is still ok to consume instead of moving to artificial sweeteners. You can slowly reduce your refined sugar intake, hidden in food items like granola bars, packaged cereals, aerated drinks, soda, etc.
Stevia Artificial Sweeteners
Stevia sweeter is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is a non-nutritive sweetener and you can find in several food and beverages. However, it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than normal sugar but has zero calories.
It is readily available in the market as Sweetleaf, Sun Crystal, Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia, and Sweet Drops.
Artificial Sweeteners and Diabetes
Artificial sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels as they do not have carbohydrates. Using sweeteners may benefit people with diabetes. You should always consult a diabetologist before using any sugar substitute.
Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects
Artificial sweeteners are usually safe to eat and drink  if taken in limited quantities. They are thoroughly tested and regulated under various authorities to ensure that they are safe to consume.
Consuming in higher quantities may be harmful and lead to headaches, migraine, weight gain, muscular issues, depression, skin problems, etc.
Also, those with metabolic disorder phenylketonuria or who are allergic to sulfonamides should avoid eating sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners Benefits
Artificial sweetener does have few benefits. It is beneficial for people who want to cut down their sugar consumption.
Many research studies show that it helps in reducing weight. It can help control body weight, fat mass, and waist circumference . With artificial sweeteners, you can keep the sweet level the same with reduced calorie intake.
Artificial Sweeteners Vs. Sugar
Some studies contradict which is better artificial sweetener or sugar. However, most medical practitioners suggest consuming sugar in limited quantities instead of artificial sweeteners.
Sweeteners are also addictive and can lead to overeating throughout the day. They are 200-300 times sweeter than regular sugar and thus can change your taste buds towards natural sweet food like fruits, dates, vegetables, etc.
Top 5 Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners
When our body consumes artificial sweeteners, it triggers the sensory cells and sends the same signal to our brain when eating something sweet, such as sugar.
However, many research report shows the ill effects of consuming these artificial sweeteners.
It restrains your taste buds: All artificial sweeteners are 200 times sweeter than normal sugar. Therefore, your taste buds get accustomed to eating super sweet foods. And it can lead to a change in their liking for natural sweet items like fresh fruits etc.
It can impact your brain: Studies show when you eat artificial sweeteners, they can disrupt hippocampal function by crossing the blood-brain barrier.
This can also lead to dysregulating appetitive behavior and impair sensitivity towards interceptive signals.
It can lead to gastrointestinal issues: Imbalances in the good and bad bacteria can lead to gut dysbiosis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This can raise many issues like abdominal bloating and pain, decreases the immune system’s health, reduces the ability to absorb nutrients from food, and inflammatory disorders.
It can lead to overeating: Artificial sweeteners can trigger the sensory organs and lead us to consume more food diets than otherwise. For example- you eat more portions than you usually eat along with diet coke or soda.
It increases insulin insensitivity: The sweetener sits in your gut and is not absorbed. The body uses it as food to feed bacteria. And results in the growth of bacteria while killing the healthier critters.
Artificial sweeteners are known as sugar substitutes. It is many times sweeter than normal sugar but is usually consumed in small quantities. Hence, it results in zero calorie intake. It triggers our brain in the same way as sugar to identify the sweet taste. They are beneficial in reducing weight and controlling blood sugar levels.
There is no specific conclusion that states it is good or bad. Some studies show it’s good for your health, while other contradicts it.
It is wise that you consult a medical practitioner before making changes to your diet plans.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Purohit, V., & Mishra, S. (2018, January). The truth about artificial sweeteners – Are they good for diabetics? Indian Heart Journal, 70(1), 197–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ihj.2018.01.020
- Kroger, M., Meister, K., & Kava, R. (2006, April). Low-calorie Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes: A Review of the Safety Issues. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 5(2), 35–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2006.tb00081.x
- Miller, P. E., & Perez, V. (2014). Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100(3), 765–777. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.113.082826