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Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad for your Health?

You have probably heard that artificial sweeteners are harmful for you. And you’ve probably heard that sugar is bad for you too. There is no need to use either one, but what do you do when you like your sweet taste and don’t feel like giving it all up? Let’s find out

Artificial and other non-caloric sweeteners: The major players

The marketers for artificial sweeteners have color-coded their products, but they differ in some important ways beyond their packaging. In the US, the most popular FDA-approved non-sugar sweeteners (NSSs) and their most common packaging color are:

aspartame (blue): examples include Nutrasweet and Equal

saccharin (pink), as in Sweet’N Low

Artificial Sweetenrs: Good or Bad?

A group of various types of both artificial and natural sweeteners including Splenda, Sweet n Low, Equal, Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and plain sugar. All items are in single serve paper packets.

stevia-derived (green), including Truvia

sucralose (yellow), as in Splenda

What is the Difference Between the Artificial Sweeteners?

Stevia is considered a “natural non-caloric sweetener.” Saccharin and sucralose are considered “non-nutritive sweeteners” (few or no calories). Aspartame is a “nutritive sweetener” (adds some calories but far less than sugar).

Aspartame comes with a warning to be used cautiously (or not at all) by people with a rare genetic disease (called phenylketonuria, or PKU) because they have trouble metabolizing it; that’s not true for the other sweeteners. And all four vary on their level of sweetness and aftertaste, which is likely why people often prefer one over another.

Sugar alcohols, or polyols, are sweetening and bulking ingredients used in manufacturing of foods and beverages, particularly sugar-free candies, cookies, and chewing gums. As a sugar substitute, they typically are less-sweet than sugar and supply fewer calories (about a half to one-third fewer calories) than sugar, are converted to glucose slowly, and do not spike increases in blood glucose.  However, they have been known to upset the GI system with bloating, cramping and IBS type symptoms so they may not be tolerated well by some.

Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, erythritol, and lactitol are examples of sugar alcohols.

Sugar alcohols, or polyols, are sweetening and bulking ingredients used in manufacturing of foods and beverages. As a sugar substitute, they supply fewer calories (about a half to one-third fewer calories) than sugar, are converted to glucose slowly, and do not spike increases in blood glucose.

Negative Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

It’s possible that these products change the way we taste food. “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A miniscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,” explains Dr. Ludwig. That means people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable.

In other words, use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.

Artificial sweeteners may play another trick, too. Research suggests that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight. Participants in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda

Benefits to using Artificial Sweeteners

Dental care

Dental care – Carbohydrates and sugars usually adhere to the tooth enamel, where bacteria feed upon them and quickly multiply. The bacteria convert the sugar to acids that decay the teeth. Sugar substitutes, unlike sugar, do not erode teeth as they are not fermented by the microflora of the dental plaque. A sweetener that may benefit dental health is xylitol, which tends to prevent bacteria from adhering to the tooth surface, thus preventing plaque formation and eventually decay.

Glucose metabolism

Diabetes mellitus – People with diabetes have difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels, and need to limit their sugar intake. Many artificial sweeteners allow sweet-tasting food without increasing blood glucose. A 2016 review described the relationship between non-nutritive sweeteners as inconclusive in causing diabetes.

Reactive hypoglycemia – Individuals with reactive hypoglycemia will produce an excess of insulin after quickly absorbing glucose into the bloodstream. This causes their blood glucose levels to fall below the amount needed for proper body and brain function. As a result, like diabetics, they must avoid intake of high-glycemic foods like white bread, and often use artificial sweeteners for sweetness without blood glucose.


Cost and shelf life – Many sugar substitutes are cheaper than sugar in the final food formulation. Sugar substitutes are often lower in total cost because of their long shelf-life and high sweetening intensity. This allows sugar substitutes to be used in products that will not perish after a short period of time

Body weight

Numerous reviews have concluded that the association between body weight and non-nutritive sweetener usage is inconclusive.

Metabolic disorder

A 2015 review found that there is no evidence that non-caloric sweeteners cause metabolic disorders in humans. However, A review article suggests there is a link between sucralose consumption and insulin resistance in susceptible individuals, due to sucralose changing the composition of gut microbiota.  But more research is needed on this topic


Reviews in 2017 and 2015 found no evidence for increased cancer risk from using artificial sweeteners.


So it appears that for the most part, artificial sweeteners are safe to use.  And may actually be beneficial to those with diabetes or those want to shed to some pounds if they are craving something sweet.  We know sugar carries a huge negative impact on our health.  So artificial sweeteners are a great substitute.  However, if you don’t want to gamble on your health, read this article