The Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

A sugar substitute, commonly known as artificial sweetener, is a great option for those trying to cut down on sugar intake while curbing your sweet tooth and lowering daily carb consumption.  This is a very hot topic in the fitness and medical world today; are artificial sweeteners really better for you than sugar? Or are they just as harmful as traditional sugar? 

The truth is: we don’t know for sure, but based on research, there are a lot of negative claims about artificial sweeteners that scientific data does not support (so don’t let the media discourage you if you’re a diet soda fan).

The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose, and a natural low-calorie sweetener: stevia. We are still learning about the effects these sweeteners have on both the human body and brain. 

Many individuals are quick to point the finger at artificial sweeteners as the cause of many diseases, cancer, and argue that it’s worse than natural sugar. This has yet to be proven. According to Harvard Health, the studies involving the health effects of artificial sweeteners are inconclusive, showing mixed results. One study may show that it has a correlation with diabetes while another shows that reverse causation may have been the cause (“when people who are overweight or have prediabetes begin drinking low calorie sweetened beverages to improve their blood sugar control, it produces a false association between higher low calorie sweetened beverage intake and future risk of developing diabetes”).

With that being said, the truth is, the long term effects of artificial sweeteners are still unknown. The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association made a statement back in 2011 that said these low-calorie substitutes may help with weight loss and could have potential metabolic benefits. They also noted that all the effects, positive and negative, were not fully realized due to insufficient data. They followed this up in 2018 with a comment about beverages including artificial sweeteners specifically, saying that long term usage is discouraged due to unknown effects, and while drinks including artificial sweeteners may assist with decreased sugar intake or weight loss, drinking beverages without any sweeteners such as plain or unsweetened carbonated water should be encouraged. 

As with everything else, moderation is key. Sweeteners, natural or artificial,  should not be added to every single meal. The summary of the artificial sweetener argument is this: they appear to be safe, do not promote hunger or addiction, and can be a useful tool in decreasing sugar or calorie consumption.