The Low-Down on Artificial Sweeteners

How Do Diet Sodas and Flavored Drinks Really Affect Your Blood Sugar and Overall Health?

The low-down on artificial sweeteners: are they okay for diabetes?First, I would like to thank everyone within the 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge Facebook Group for their questions, ideas and support. Everyone is interacting with each other and extremely helpful. The success of this group is far beyond what we could have imagined. This is very encouraging because the support we all provide each other is going to help us all stay on track as we progress toward better health. (Want to join the next free 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge? Click here to learn more!)

Someone in the group asked whether diet soda was okay to drink, since it contains no real grams of sugar? This is an excellent question that I wanted to really draw out so you can understand why all sodas, regular, diet or otherwise, are not good for you in one way or another.

Because we’re constantly bombarded with extremely persuasive advertising on a daily basis, it’s tough to really get a handle on what’s good and not good for us. When you’re told a certain soda is “sugar free,” have you ever wondered how it’s still sweet? Or how this soda still has flavor although it has “zero” calories?

This post is about what artificial sweeteners really are, what brand names they go by, and how sugar and artificial sweeteners affect your brain and overall health so you can confidently shop for the best drinks and food for managing your diabetes effectively.

[Watch the video version of this post here:]

Real sugar vs. sugar substitutes

A 12-ounce can of regular Coke contains 39 grams of total sugar, which is about 9 1/3 teaspoons of sugar. The sugar content is derived from high fructose corn syrup, which is a cheaper way to add sugar/sweetness to everyday beverages. Check out the infographic below.

coke1hr3

Infographic via TheRenegadePharmacist.com

OK, so you already knew that and switched to Diet Coke or other diet soda types because you didn’t want to consume the sugar, calories, carbs or sodium content of Coke. The artificial sweeteners in Diet Coke are just as bad but in different ways. Take a look at this next infographic.

DietCoke-CokeOpenFattiness

Infographic via TheRenegadePharmacist.com

One of the points you see is about how drinking a can of Coke or Diet Coke provides absolutely no positive nutrition value and, in turn, could replace a more nourishing beverage. I love this point because it’s really what helped me regain my own health after I became overweight. Think in terms of opportunity cost when it comes to foods and drinks. Don’t squander opportunities to make a healthy choice when given the chance.

Let’s look at artificial sweeteners. These can be found in just about any beverage at the grocery store, so I always suggest you disregard any of the branding and labels on the front and just go right to the ingredients. Here are some great examples:

Refreshe label

Coke Zero label

Minute Maid label

As you can see, each advertises zero or low calorie counts while still having some form of artificial sweetener as an ingredient. So let’s take a look at all the artificial sweeteners out there.

To date, the FDA has approved the use of six artificial sweeteners; each one is far sweeter than regular sugar. They include:

Artificial sweetener

Brand names

Sweetness as compared to sugar

Aspartame Equal®, NutraSweet®, others 180 times sweeter than sugar
Acesulfame-K Sunett®, Sweet One® 200 times sweeter than sugar
Saccharin Sweet’N Low®, Necta Sweet®, others 300 times sweeter than sugar
Sucralose Splenda® 600 times sweeter than sugar
Neotame No brand names 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar
Advantame No brand names 20,000 times sweeter than sugar

 

What about stevia?

The FDA has not yet evaluated one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener made from the leaves of a shrub that grows in South and Central America.
  • Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than sugar.
  • A number of major soft drink companies have begun launching stevia-sweetened beverages, sometimes combining stevia with erythritol, a sugar alcohol.

Stevia is the only sugar substitute we recommend for our 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge, where in week 1, we challenge participants to swap their sugary drinks for water.

(Note: Want to get started on the path towards well-managed diabetes and great health? We’d love to see you inside our 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge! It’s free to join and is an excellent way to build the healthy habits that will allow you to reach your health goals.)

Smart Diabetes 21 Day Challenge

Sugar alcohols

Erythritol and xylitol are sugar alcohols, a class of compounds used for decades to sweeten chewing gum, candy, fruit spreads, toothpaste, cough syrup, and other products. Newer, cheaper ways to make sugar alcohols from corn, wood, and other plant materials, along with their sugar-like taste, are fueling their use in a growing array of foods.

How do artificial sweeteners really affect your health? Are they healthy for those with diabetes?

A study via WebMD

Artificial sweeteners could raise your blood sugar levels more than if you indulged in sugar-sweetened sodas and desserts. Researchers have found that saccharin (a.k.a. Sweet’N Low), sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda), and aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet and Equal) raised blood sugar levels by dramatically changing the makeup of the gut microorganisms, mainly bacteria, that are in the intestines and help with nutrition and the immune system, according to WebMD.

In the latest research, “What we are seeing in humans and also in mice is this previously unappreciated correlation between artificial sweetener use and microorganisms in the gut”, said Eran Elinav, MD, one of the scientists involved in the new study.

Eran Segal, PhD, another scientist involved in the study said, “Initially, we were surprised by the results, which is why we also repeated them multiple times.”

Segal and Elinav added saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame to the drinking water of mice and found that their blood sugar levels were higher than those of mice who drank real sugar water, no matter whether the animals were on a normal diet or a high-fat diet.

The mice given artificially sweetened water “were almost diabetic,” said Martin Obin, PhD, who was not involved in the research but read the paper. Obin is an adjunct scientist in the nutrition and genomics laboratory at Tufts University’s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

Although saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame are three different compounds, “the effects were quite similar to each other,” Segal said. Those three sweeteners make up the bulk of the market. Segal said more research is needed to see whether others, such as stevia, can also change the collection of microorganisms in the gut.

When the sweetener-fed mice were given antibiotics to clear their gut of bacteria, their blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal. To gather more evidence of the relationship between artificial sweeteners, gut bacteria, and blood sugar levels, the researchers transferred feces from mice that drank artificially sweetened water into mice that never had. Sure enough, blood sugar levels rose in the recipients.

The scientists also studied nearly 400 people and found the bacteria in the guts of those who ate and drank artificial sweeteners were different from those who did not. People who used artificial sweeteners also tended to have higher fasting blood sugar levels and a pre-diabetic condition called impaired blood-sugar tolerance.

Finally, the researchers recruited seven volunteers, five men and two women, who normally didn’t eat or drink products with artificial sweeteners and followed them for a week, tracking their blood sugar levels. The volunteers were given the FDA’s maximum acceptable daily intake of saccharin from day two through day seven. By the end of the week, blood sugar levels had risen in four of the seven people. Transfers of feces from people whose blood sugar rose increased blood sugar in mice, more evidence that the artificial sweetener changed the gut bacteria.

“It’s small,” Obin said of the seven-person study, “but it’s very, very profound.”

The main point I want to get across is that consuming any beverage with artificial sweeteners is potentially harmful to your health. If you think back hundreds of years before artificial sweeteners, our bodies would only be subjected to sugar in its raw form. Now our bodies are exposed to chemically engineered versions of sugar that are not just a little sweeter, but hundreds if not thousands of times sweeter. I’m no scientist, but that cannot be good for you.

To consume artificial sweeteners or not to consume…

My true recommendation is to drink things that are as natural as possible and don’t be led into believing something is good for you just because of what it says on the front label of a bottle. Start from the ingredients list on the back label of a product and go from there.

Just because a bottle or a packaged snack may say “sugar free” or “low-calorie” does not mean it’s healthy! As you can see from the studies above, although artificial sweeteners may not contain actual grams of sugar, they can still seriously throw off your blood sugar levels.

We at Smart Diabetes Solutions suggest using real fruit to flavor drinks (for example, citrus or berry infused water is an excellent, all-natural swap for artificially flavored waters). If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet-tooth, go with a natural stevia brand like SweetLeaf. You can order it right on Amazon through that link. Keep in mind the price of stevia may look more expensive than traditional sugar upfront, but since it is so much sweeter than sugar, you will need to use only a tiny amount per serving.
78 Sugar-Free Drinks eBook

We also have a great book called 78 Sugar-Free Drinks to Satisfy Your Cravings, Naturally. This is the ultimate book for anyone looking to kick their sugary drink cravings to the curb and stay hydrated and energized! The book is designed to help you manage your diabetes through hydration with the most delicious of recipes. Click here to learn more and get your copy.

Good luck and be well!

Kyle Jensen is the Wellness Coach at Smart Diabetes Solutions. After being overweight and unhealthy for too long, he took action and found his way back to great health through natural and simple healthy habits. He now spends his time coaching members of the 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge and Complete Wellness Program.

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