Updated: Apr 22, 2019
Happy Easter everyone! I hope everyone is having a great day enjoying time with Easter eggs, chocolate, and loved ones. Today I wanted to try to answer any questions you may have about artificial sweeteners. Most of us use artificial sweeteners on a daily basis, whether it’s Stevia drops in your oatmeal or a packet of Splenda in your morning coffee. I used a few drops of Stevia to sweeten up my French toast batter this morning. There are all kinds of rumors flying around about particular artificial sweeteners and their link with cancer. While I can’t say that they don’t cause cancer, I can say that most of the studies showing this link have involved rats eating massive amounts of these sweeteners. To put things into perspective, a 132-pound individual would have to consistently eat the following amounts in a single day before adverse side effects would be noticed:
23 packets of sucralose (Splenda)
45 packets of saccharin (Sweet N’ Low)
75 packets of aspartame (Equal)
The amounts of sweetener would be higher for someone heavier than 132 pounds and lower for someone less than 132 pounds. This is just a reference point to help put things into perspective for you. Artificial sweeteners are also sweeter than table sugar so you will generally use less of it to sweeten your foods and drinks, which makes it even more difficult to exceed these limits. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could eat that many packets of any kind of sweetener in a day.
Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Weight
People use artificial sweeteners for a variety of reasons. Some people use them to help reduce sugar intake and maintain blood sugar levels, some people use them to help maintain current weight, and some people use them to help reduce calorie intake and loose weight. There are actually mixed reviews on artificial sweetener intake and weight loss. It likely all depends on the person, like most things in the nutrition world. Some studies show a link between artificial sweetener intake and weight loss, while others seem to indicate weight gain. The theory behind it is that our sugar craving is not met by eating artificial sweeteners, so our body will overcompensate and get its sugar from other sources, leading to increased calorie intake. On the other hand, if we were to just eat the fully sweetened food or drink, our craving would be satisfied, and we would not overcompensate later.
Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Blood Sugar
Artificial sweeteners may seem like a great alternative for diabetics to continue enjoying the foods that they love, while still controlling their blood sugar levels. The effect of artificial sweeteners on blood sugar levels depends entirely on the person and the type of artificial sweetener used. From what I’ve read it seems like Stevia may have the lowest impact on blood sugar than most other sweeteners. With that being said, there is no research to suggest one single sweetener that is best for diabetics, so continue using a variety of artificial sweeteners to help reduce overall added sugar intake. I would talk to your provider or diabetes educator for recommendations on the most appropriate sweetener alternative for you.
This sweetener is 160-220 times sweeter than table sugar and is made up of amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Since this sweetener contains phenylalanine it carries a statement advising those with phenylketonuria (PKU) that their product contains aspartame. This sweetener is a general purpose sweetener and is often the sweetener of choice in diet sodas.
This sweetener is actually regular table sugar that has had three hydroxyl groups replaced with three chlorine molecules. No calories are absorbed because this new creation is not able to be absorbed by our bodies and exits our bodies unchanged. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar and is now used as a general purpose sweetener.
Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low):
This sweetener is made up of a soluble sodium salt that our bodies can’t breakdown, so it is eliminated from our bodies without any calories being absorbed. Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar. This sweetener was accused of causing cancer because it showed tumor growth in rats. However, since then studies have shown no correlation between saccharin intake and cancer in humans.
Acesulfame-K (Sweet One, Sunett):
This artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than table sugar and is a made of organic acid and potassium. Acesulfame-K is a general-purpose sweetener that can be used in just about anything.
Stevia is a sweetener that is taken from the leaves of a Stevia plant and is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. This sweetener is better suited as a liquid sweetener than most other artificial sweeteners and can be used in a powder form as a table sweetener. Stevia is becoming a more popular option for sweetening beverages and other foods.
This artificial sweetener does actually contain calories, but the amount of calories you actually absorb varies depending on the sugar alcohol used. Sugar alcohols are typically used in combination with other sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners to help reduce calories.
We are still unsure on how artificial sweeteners affect our bodies in the long run, and it is undetermined why some people gain weight and others lose weight while using artificial sweeteners. Everyone is different and a lot of nutrition and health is trial and error until you find what works best for you. Talk with a dietitian, health care provider, or diabetes educator to help guide you to finding the best solution for you.
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics