By: Gabrielle Deveaux, Registered Dietitian (RD)
Many nutritionists and registered dietitians talk about artificial sweeteners and their health implications, this week we are targeting this topic. Also, many meal plans and diet-plans talk about this topic as well; therefore, clarifying artificial sweeteners for our clients is also an important job for our nutritionists and registered dietitians (at Mint Nutrition Clinic).
Are Artificial Sweeteners Healthy?
Artificial sweeteners have become a popular way to sweeten food without the extra calories. They have become a part of many weight loss diets and diabetes related diets. There are many types of artificial sweeteners and below is a general breakdown/information guide about these substances.
What are Artificial Sweeteners?
Despite tasting significantly sweeter than sugar, artificial sweeteners have little to no calories and carbohydrates. Common types include aspartame and sucralose. All sweeteners on the market are tested and well-regulated by Health Canada to ensure they are safe for consumption. However, the long-term health effects continue to be studied.
The main benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they have minimal calories, so they can be a good option for those with a sweet tooth who are trying to lose weight. They are often recommended as sugar substitutes for people with diabetes because they do not raise short-term blood sugar levels since they are metabolized differently than sugar. They are also better for dental health, causing less cavities and tooth decay.
Although many studies have found that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners can result in weight loss, recent research has shown that they may actually cause long-term weight gain. This may be due to an increase in appetite caused by their sweet taste. It tricks our bodies into thinking we are eating sugar, but since there are few calories, we crave more food to compensate for this lack of fuel. They may also change our taste preference for very sweet foods. Sweeteners may disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut (called the microbiome), which can promote obesity, diabetes, and other long-term health issues. Those with IBS may want to limit sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol, since they can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
More research is needed, but replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners may not be an effective strategy for long-term weight loss. Although they are safe to consume in Canada, there may be other health effects that should be considered. It is best to have sugar and artificial sweeteners in moderation. Instead, sweeten foods with cinnamon, vanilla extract, or fruits.
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Dietitians of Canada. 2017. PEN® Trending Topic – Nonnutritive Sweeteners, Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Health - Inconclusive Results. Retrieved from https://www.dietitians.ca/Member/Resources-from-A-Z/Practice-based-Evidence-in-Nutrition--PEN-/Trending-Topic-Nonnutritive-Sweeteners,-Body-Weigh.aspx
Suez, J., Korem, T., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Segal, E., & Elinav, E. (2015) Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges. Gut Microbes, 6(2), 149-155. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2015.1017700
Mattes, R.D. & Popkin, B.M. (2009). Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.26792