Isn’t it ironic that consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with obesity, excess weight and diabetes? These synthetic sugar substitutes have little to no calories and are much sweeter than sugar; you only need a small amount to achieve the same degree of sweetness. Some are from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar. There are five FDA approved artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame and sucralose. The FDA also approved stevia, a natural low-calorie sweetener.
In theory, these sweeteners are good for weight loss and for those with diabetes because they are low in calories and don’t cause a change in blood sugar. Yet, research found that drinking diet soda daily is associated with a greater risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, liver and heart disease, and weight gain. This is surprising, so researchers are trying to discover why.
Some research links sweetener consumption to changes in the microbiome − the trillions of bacteria that make up our gut. Our diets not only affect our own health directly, but also affect the type and amount of bacteria in our body and gastrointestinal tract. A study found that consuming these sweeteners causes impaired glucose tolerance by changing the types of bacteria in the microbiome. The researchers studied mice and humans. The mice treated with saccharin showed the largest changes. And over half of the human subjects had microbiome changes and poorer responses to sugar. These changes were noticeable only five to seven days after consuming the artificial sweeteners. The results support that artificial sweeteners, saccharin (Sweet’N Low) in particular, negatively change the microbiome's composition and function.
Overall, artificial sweeteners become food for our microbiome and different bacteria prefer different sweeteners. So when we consume certain sweeteners, harmful bacteria can thrive. This could be the link between artificial sweeteners, diabetes and excess weight.
Bottom Line: It is best to avoid eating many artificial sweeteners. Reach for naturally sweet fruits like apples, bananas and dates to get your sweet fix.
Written by: Abby Cannon, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
1. Mayo Clinic