Artificial Sweeteners: Are they safe, or should you avoid them?
zThere’s a lot of talk about artificial sweeteners online. Some people are all for them, while others are strictly against them.
It’s Coach Laney here to chat about artificial sweeteners!
Part of the reason for people’s opinions on artificial sweeteners being all over the place is that not all artificial sweeteners are created equal.
The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners, so I will break down which ones are the best for you and bust some common myths. Spoiler alert: research indicates that there is no connection between artificial sweeteners and bladder cancer.
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. Although they are artificial, some come from natural sources such as herbs.
Artificial sweeteners can help increase water intake, curb cravings, and provide lower-calorie options. However, GI upsets such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea are common with most low-calorie sweeteners, so pick the one you respond to best!
The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners, and they are:
Stevia and monk fruit are natural zero-calorie sweeteners you can use as well. You may also see erythritol or xylitol used in some products. These are calorie-free sugar alcohols that are naturally occurring and are “safe” (see more on this in the chart below) but may also cause digestive upset in some people, just like certain artificial sweeteners!
Although artificial sweeteners have been around for quite some time, we are still learning about the effects these sweeteners have on both the human body and brain.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe to Eat?
Artificial sweeteners are safe to eat as long as you stay within the acceptable daily limits.
However, you should be mindful that everyone responds to artificial sweeteners differently, and certain sweeteners may cause different side effects.
ACCEPTABLE DAILY INTAKE
5 mg per kg of body weight
5 mg per kg of body weight
4 mg per kg of body weight
50 mg per kg of body weight
(e.g., Sweet One)
15 mg per kg of body weight
Some people believe that artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sugar, leading to higher calorie consumption.
As it turns out, artificial sweeteners don’t have the same effect on the brain as regular sugar.
At the University of California-San Diego, researchers performed functional MRI scans as volunteers took small sips of water sweetened with sugar or sucralose. Sugar activated regions of the brain involved in food reward, while sucralose didn’t.
There also used to be some claims that certain artificial sugars increased the risk of bladder cancer. A retrospective study that looked at records of the use of artificial sweeteners and rates of bladder cancer found no association.
But, as you may have guessed, more research needs to be done.
Other research should focus on the effects on weight control, cardiometabolic risk factors, and the risk of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
The Best Artificial Sweeteners
Remember, sugar is not the enemy. Focus on quality nutrients for most meals and add fun foods that make you happy.
But, if you want to know which artificial sweeteners are the best option, here’s the breakdown:
We like Stevia because it is extracted from a plant and easy on the stomach. It’s a good option for hot drinks and baking.
Monk fruit is a good source of antioxidants. It is a no-calorie sweetener that’s about 150-200 times sweeter than regular sugar. You can use it for smoothies or hot drinks.
Coconut sugar is actually a sugar, but it doesn’t contain as much fructose as regular sugar. It’s a great option as a one-to-one substitute for granulated sugar.
Xylitol and Erythritol
Both xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols, meaning the body absorbs them differently than regular sugar. They help maintain consistent blood sugar, but side effects include bloating and gas.
The following options are not the best choices, but they are still okay as long as you eat them in moderation:
Splenda is sucralose, which may raise blood sugar and insulin levels. It’s also possible that Splenda may damage the bacterial environment in your gut.
Additional research on humans is required before we can say these are for sure side effects.
Aspartame has been linked to side effects such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue. There are several other side effects reported with the use of aspartame.
Also known as saccharin, Sweet N’Low may throw off gut bacteria balance. More research is needed to be sure.
Artificial sweeteners can be a great low-calorie option, but it isn’t necessary to avoid sugar altogether.
Click here to access our FREE macro tracking quickstart guide! You’ll learn what macros are, why you should track them, and how this flexible dieting practice can help you reach your health and fitness goals (without diet restrictions)!
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Frank GK, Oberndorfer TA, Simmons AN, Paulus MP, Fudge JL, Yang TT, Kaye WH. Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener. Neuroimage. 2008 Feb 15;39(4):1559-69.