Experts are Undecided on Artificial Sweeteners, Potential Harmful Effects Still Under Debate

We Know They Don’t Help, but They Might Cause Harm

While experts haven’t found strongly conclusive evidence that artificial sweeteners are hurting us, there are a few bothersome pieces of evidence suggesting these sweeteners might have long term detrimental effects.

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are synthetically created, meaning they don’t naturally occur outside of a laboratory. These kinds of sweeteners have fewer calories, and are often 100 times more potent than sugar when it comes to sweetening, meaning less is needed to give food a sweet taste. They’re commonly used in diet soda, yogurts, candy, pastries, etc.

The Possible Negative Effects

One notable factor from these studies is that there’s evidence that artificial sweeteners have effects on gut bacteria. In one study conducted on rats, aspartame was shown to have effects on gut bacterial populations.   Consider that our gut bacteria are capable of making it more difficult to lose weight. It makes sense that artificial sweeteners could have negative effects on us that would be overlooked even after years of use.

Consuming artificially sweetened food and beverages could also be distorting our perception of how much we should be eating. If you’re drinking diet soda at a party, you might decide eating an extra slice of cake isn’t that big a deal. That kind of reasoning could easily begin to stack up. At the moment, the best advice seems to be: view foods that are artificially sweetened with some suspicion. Your aim should be to eat healthier foods overall instead of trying to replace sugars with artificial sweeteners.

Stevia May Be Best

When you ask RD/nutritionists about issues surrounding these sweeteners, you’ll find that not all sweeteners are the same and there is some thought that stevia based sweetener would be the least likely to cause harm.  Quantity is also an important concept–with the huge quantities of sugar added to soft drinks, many RD’s advise that regular soda is still the greater evil. (Drink water.)

For more on artificial sweeteners, check out this excellent article written by Judy George published in MedPage Today.