Artificial Sweeteners – Are they safe?

Artificial Sweeteners, sugar substitutes, Natural sugar free sugar replacement

Artificial Sweeteners – Are they safe?


Artificial Sweeteners – even for the most health conscious, the discussion of sugar substitutes can be downright confusing. You may have been told to cut down on your sugar intake and perhaps you’ve heard that artificial sugars were a safe, calorie and guilt free sweetener that will compliment your health kick. New research shares concerning insights about the effects of these non nutritive sweeteners on our health. Natural sugar free sugar replacement looks like the better way to go.

What are Artificial sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners (also known as non-nutritive sweeteners) are concentrated, intense sweeteners, sweeter than sugar by weight and created in a lab. They can be 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. Artificial sweeteners are used instead of regular table sugar for a sweet kick and are popular for those looking to watch their sugar intake. They sweeten food but lack nutrients.

Found in foods or beverages marked “diet”, you may see them in soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, some baked goods, candy, chewing gum and sugar free dairy products like ice cream. Their names include Aspartame, Sucralose (Splenda), Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), Advantame, Neotame, Saccharin (Equal and Hermesetas).

With 25% of children and 40% of adults in the US report consuming foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners, the artificial sweetener industry was worth over 7.2 billion USD in 2021 and rising.

Are Artificial Sugar Substitutes safe?

Touted as a guilt free sugar substitute with no effect on blood sugar levels, research suggests the opposite. Scientists have uncovered that commonly used artificial sugar substitutes saccharin and sucralose impact our microbiome and affect the way we tolerate sugar.

Our microbiome, or “gut bugs” are unique to us and our DNA, living largely in our gastrointestinal system, there are good and bad bugs in everyone’s gut, coexisting peacefully. In a healthy person, the majority of these “bugs” are helpful, and are involved in many key roles in the human body, coexisting peacefully. In an unhealthy person, the majority of these “bugs” are harmful, and place us at greater risk of disease.

An unhealthy diet including artificial sweeteners, can change the ratio of good and bad bugs, causing an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes, sometimes call gut dysbiosis, that can affect blood sugar levels, placing us at greater risk of disease and weight gain.

In a recent study, when the participants consumed artificial sweeteners their gut microbes composition and function responded to the artificial sweeteners, and changed glucose tolerance.

Glucose tolerance is the way the human body responds and utilises glucose. Glucose tolerance can be normal, impaired or abnormal. A glucose tolerance test can be used to diagnose type 1 diabetes mellitus, type 2 diabetes mellitus and gestational diabetes mellitus where high blood glucose levels or hyperglycemia are observed. The shocking reality is that the use of artificial sweeteners aimed at preventing glucose intolerance may be contributing to and possibly driving abnormal results. Whilst sugar rich drinks are known to be linked to diabetes and metabolic disease, artificial sweeteners and risk for disease should also be studied based on the current research findings

WHO Cancer research Agency Report

A current study by the WHO Cancer research agency has stated that aspartame is set to be declared as early as July 2023,  as a possible carcinogen to humans!

Natural Sugar Free Sugar replacements

Whilst sugar and artificial sweeteners both affect glucose tolerance, there are alternative options for sweetening foods that are beneficial for health and support a healthy microbiome.

Xylitol is a natural sugar free sweetener and its name comes from the word “xylose” or” wood sugar”. Xylitol can be used in place of sugar at a 1:1 ratio. It has a low glycemic index of 7 and is beneficial for the diversity of the microbiome.

The human body produces 5g to 15g of xylitol daily as an intermediate of glucose metabolism

Monk Fruit is a small all-natural vine ripened, fruit that resembles a melon, native to southern China and northern Thailand. Cultivated for its antioxidant fruit extracts, called mogrosides, that give it the extra sweet flavour but have no calories. It has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine as a digestive aid, and now it is also being used to sweeten foods and beverages worldwide.

For decades, food authorities have assured the public of the safety of sweet substitutes and non nutritive sweeteners like Equal (aspartame) Splenda (sucralose) arguing they had no impact on the human body. We now know otherwise, welcoming further studies in the area to ensure the food we consume is safe and nutritious for our bodies. As further research emerges, researchers advise caution is necessary.

Brooke Crabb


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Alsunni AA. Effects of Artificial Sweetener Consumption on Glucose Homeostasis and Its Association with Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity. Int J Gen Med. 2020 Oct 6;13:775-785. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S274760. PMID: 33116769; PMCID: PMC7547772.