What You Should Know About Artificial Sweeteners And Sugar Substitutes
Written by Calvin Sun
Most people can agree that eating large quantities of refined sugar isn’t great for your health, fitness, or body composition. Sugar provides a large amount of rapidly absorbable carbohydrates, which can lead to issues like excessive caloric intake, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome [1,2,3].
In an effort to reduce intake of sugar and calories, many people turn to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes to satiate their cravings for sweets. While these low-calorie or no-calorie substitutes may seem like innocuous sweeteners, they may carry health consequences worse than the table sugar they are meant to replace.
1. Artificial Sweeteners May Promote Weight Gain
Multiple studies have found that consumption of artificial sweeteners can actually increase weight gain. In animal studies, researchers have found that despite eating the same amount of calories, the addition of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin resulted in increased weight gain compared to table sugar [4,5]. Studies on children and adolescents have found that increased diet soda consumption is associated with significantly increased BMI scores [6,7]. Other research has found that substituting diet beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages to be ineffective for reducing weight [8,9].
2. Artificial Sweeteners Have Been Linked To Health Problems
A 2008 study found that consumption of Splenda (sucralose) reduced beneficial gut microflora and caused alterations in pH values . Sucralose has also been found to affect the way the body reacts to glucose resulting in higher blood sugar and elevated insulin response . Another study published earlier this year found that consumption of aspartame can result in irritable mood, depression, and diminished performance on spatial orientation tests .
3. Many “Natural” Sweeteners Are High In Fructose
Many natural sweeteners contain high amounts of fructose which can also be problematic. Agave nectar is commonly marketed as a healthy sugar alternative despite the fact that it contains more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose can affect your blood lipids  and has been directly linked to obesity and weight gain [13,14,15]. Refined honey and fruit juice concentrates are other common sugar alternatives that you might want to use minimally. Read my post, “Liquid Death“, for some more information on agave nectar and fructose consumption.
4. Sugar Alcohols Can Cause GI Problems
Erythritol, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol are common sugar alcohols that you’ll find in products ranging from protein bars to chewing gum. These sweeteners are considered a class of polyols, which are part of a class of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). These carbohydrates and related alcohols are poorly digested and can exacerbate gut symptoms . Sugar alcohols can cause gas, pain, bloating, and diarrhea . If you aren’t convinced, just eat some sugar-free gummy bears and you’ll find out first hand how sugar alcohols can affect your GI tract.
Are There Any Safe Sugar Alternatives?
If you must use a sugar substitute, consider using stevia. The research thus far on stevia seems very positive. It doesn’t appear to increase appetite and might actually help improve insulin sensitivity [19,20]. Though, it’s probably best to exercise some moderation when it comes to consumption of sugars and artificial sweeteners. If you are trying to improve your health and body composition, consider avoiding using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar and focus on building good nutrition habits that don’t involve a dependency on artificial sweets and drowning your sorrows in diet soda. The Invictus Nutrition Coaching program and Look Good Feel Good Challenges are great ways to start building solid nutrition habits.
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