Artificial Sweeteners

The average American consumes a whopping 152 pounds of “added” sugars a year. (Added sugars are caloric sweeteners that are not found naturally in foods.) That’s way, way, beyond the 10 teaspoons a day of added sugar the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends as a limit.

If you have diabetes, it’s especially important to keep an eye on sugar intake. Of course that’s not as easy as it sounds because sugar is found in everything from salad dressing and ketchup to energy bars and yogurt. For people with diabetes, consuming added sugars can be particularly problematic because it causes blood glucose levels to spike.

Fortunately, foods and beverages made with artificial sweeteners can help satisfy cravings without causing blood glucose to rise.

Here’s what you need to know about sugar and artificial sweeteners:

The Basics

Artificial sweeteners can curb cravings. Low-calorie sweeteners, aka sugar substitutes, are used to sweeten foods and drinks and at the same time reduce calories. Artificial sweeteners do not contain carbohydrates so they do not raise blood sugar. That said, many foods and beverages that are sweetened artificially still contain calories from carbohydrates, which also causes blood glucose to rise. Be sure to read labels carefully so you can keep a close eye on overall carb intake.

Which Artificial Sweetener is the Healthiest

There are five artificial sweeteners with U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. They are found in foods and beverages, and also sold packaged to use in cooking and baking. The five artificial sweeteners available today are:

  • acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)
  • saccharin (Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin, Sugar Twin)
  • sucralose (Splenda)
  • neotame

Is Stevia An Artificial Sweetener?

And there’s a sixth: rebaudioside, aka Stevia. But because Stevia comes from a plant, it is not technically an artificial sweetener. You will find Stevia sold as A Sweet Leaf, Sun Crystals, Steviva, Truvia and PureVia.

How Artificial Sweeteners Taste

Artificial sweeteners are super sweet. Every artificial sweetener has a slightly different taste and some are many times sweeter than sugar. Others leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouth. You may have to try several until you find one that you like.

How Artificial Sweeteners Can Help

Small changes can make a big difference. Swapping artificially sweetened beverages for sugar-sweetened ones can save you dozens of grams of carbohydrates and hundreds of calories, every day. For example, if you drink two 12-ounce sodas daily, you’re consuming 80 grams of carbohydrates and 300 calories. If you choose diet soda, or zero-calorie sweetened soda water, you’re saving a ton of calories. If you swap 2 teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee for one packet of artificial sweetener, you save 32 calories and 10 grams of carbohydrates.

Artificial Sweetener Side Effects 

Although artificial sweeteners have been under the microscope of the public eye for decades, there is no clear evidence that artificial sweeteners cause any side effects. Studies in the early 1970s linked saccharin to increased rates of bladder cancer in laboratory rats, but subsequent studies proved conclusively that these results applied only to rats, and not to humans. 

There was a scare in the mid-1990s when a report was released suggesting that aspartame might have led to an increase in the number of people with brain tumors between 1975 and 1992. However, a closer look at the data shows no proof whatsoever to these claims.

Numerous studies in the past few decades have confirmed that artificial sweeteners are safe in reasonable quantities, even for pregnant women.