Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe? 2021 Update


People trying to shed weight always wonder: “Are artificial sweeteners safe? And if so, which artificial sweeteners are safe?”

The updated review shows that artificial sweeteners are still a safe and effective option for weight management.

One of the main goals of the Science-Based Medicine resource is to provide consumers with information according to which they will make decisions regarding their health and their loved ones’ health. People make such decisions every day, and, unfortunately, we are often surrounded by misinformation about our health.

Most people with whom health issues are discussed are either insufficiently informed or misinformed about general health issues. Often, those who consider themselves highly informed believe in many myths.

This is extremely sad because people are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, actively and looking for truthful information, but they only find false statements. This often leads to the fact that they form useless or even bad habits, missing out on the opportunity to change their lives for the better.

One of the more popular myths is the harm of consuming low-calorie sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame. Just type those words into your search engine, and you’ll find fear, conspiracy theories, and tons of gibberish. There will be serious discussions about complex and controversial research, and it is unlikely that a clear answer will be given.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe? Scientific Evidence

artificial sweeteners safe

Consumption of Low-Calorie Sweeteners Results in Less Energy and Weight Loss

In 2015, a large body of evidence was considered, and a conclusion was drawn.

Despite the confusing results of some studies, most of the evidence indicates that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners results in less energy and weight loss compared to consumption of sugar-sweetened foods. Of course, new qualitative research is welcome, but at the moment, it is clear that these findings are validated and reliable.

After a few years, the conclusions have not changed in any way, but it was interesting to see if new studies emerged. In the brief review, it is often confusing that in observational studies, consumption of low-calorie sweeteners is correlated with high body mass index. However, since the data are correlations, it is more likely that overweight people are more likely to consume sweeteners.

Animal studies have also shown a correlation between weight gain and sweetener intake, but the results have been mixed, and the data are difficult to extrapolate to humans. In rats and mice, the metabolism differs from humans, and the nutrition that the experimental animals received is not applicable to humans.

While animal research, basic research, and observational research are useful, they are not superior to well-designed controlled clinical trials. In such experiments, you can control variables and track causality. Such studies have shown that replacing sugar with low-calorie sweeteners leads to weight loss. Thus, there is no negative effect of low-calorie sweeteners on the human body.

What new evidence is there for low-calorie sweeteners and weight management? According to the 2018 survey, the findings are as follows:


Sweeteners Reduce Calories and Body Weight

Low-calorie sweeteners reduce the energy density of foods while preserving their flavor. Consumption of low-calorie sweeteners has been found to reduce calories and body weight when compared to sugar consumption.

This review also focuses on strategies for reducing calorie intake and physical and mental rewards for food. Energy consumption and energy expenditure are not perfectly matched (which is why the obesity problem exists).

A person has pleasant sensations that affect what we eat, and as a rule, we choose high-calorie foods. Low-calorie sweeteners essentially trick the body into thinking that the food you eat is high in calories. This strategy works great if you also eat “healthy” foods that are low in calories.


Low-Calorie Sweeteners Help Control Weight Gain

The 2016 Energy Balance Review stated the following:

Randomized controlled trials demonstrate the benefits of eating low-calorie sweeteners as they are quite good at helping people control weight gain. Based on existing evidence, sweeteners can be a useful tool for people who are losing or maintaining weight.

Most reviews have concluded that the use of low-calorie sweeteners in people is beneficial for weight loss. However, some reviews discussed the lack of data on other metabolic effects of sweeteners. However, for most people, weight and glycemic control are the most important factors. It would be interesting to consider these factors separately, and there are such studies.

Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Glycemia

2018 study looked at the effects of consuming low-calorie sweeteners on glycemia:

Compared to baseline, consumption of sweeteners did not increase blood glucose levels and gradually decreased over the course of observation.

Thus, sweeteners did not have a negative effect on insulin production (as seen in some animal studies) and actually did have a positive effect on blood sugar over time. This is another example of why the results of animal experiments do not always apply to humans.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe for Young Children?

There are some other questions, such as the effect of low-calorie sweeteners on young children. Perhaps this negatively affects their reward system or metabolism and further has negative consequences. Reviews for 2016 and 2018 concluded that there is no evidence of adverse effects, but more research is needed.

Artificial Sweeteners Are Safe

sweeteners safe for diabetics

The safety of low-calorie sweeteners has recently been reviewed in published studies.

However, for those scared of artificial sweeteners, there is always something to worry about. Of course, it is always good to ask questions, as it helps us understand all the possible risks. But it is encouraging that clinical studies have been conducted over the years on the health effects of low-calorie sweeteners. If at least some mechanism of action that we do not understand were discovered, it would certainly be reported.

Despite the encouraging safety data, one can find cause for concern when one looks at the studies regarding the gut microbiome.

Studies in mice show changes in the bacterial flora of the gut, and it is possible that these changes may affect health. Gut microbiota is a useful reference when you want to create new fears. For decades, we will never understand what these changes in gut microbiota mean. But on the other hand, new pseudoscientific theories will appear, and someone will certainly begin to speculate on this fear. There is currently no clear evidence that low-calorie sweeteners adversely affect the gut microbiota, leading to health problems. There is no correlation between basic and clinical research on this issue.

Thus, in 2018, there was no change in the point of view regarding artificial sweeteners: they are safe, do not cause obesity, metabolic disorders, or other health problems. Artificial sweeteners can also be beneficial for weight management.

There are “natural cane sugar” tricks. However, while the case for low-calorie sweeteners is clear, there are some known health risks associated with eating large amounts of refined sugar. There are a large number of people who prefer to consume cane sugar over sucralose or aspartame because they believe it is better for their health. Such people are victims of disinformation campaigns. In fact, they agree to a product that has been proven to be harmful rather than taking a closer look at the information.

Source: Update on Low-Calorie Sweeteners

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