The 411 on Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame. Saccharin. Sucralose.

Aspartame compound

What do these three names have in common?They are artificial sweeteners and have attracted quite a crowd of controversy since their birth.  Are these non-nutrtive sweeteners safe and what are the long-term effects? What happens if I drink that diet coke everyday? Let’s find out …

In short, Aspartame was developed in 1965 when a scientist studying new treatments for gastric ulcers accidentally licked a sweet compound off his hand that had been ejected from his experiment. Thus, Aspartame was born.  200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar) and marketed as Equal or NutraSweet, aspartame was approved by the FDA in 1981 as a table top sweetener and in 1996 as safe for all purposes. Are you eating some sugar-free candy, sipping some sweet diet soda or chewing gum right now? Chances are you may be consuming aspartame or another type of non-nutritive sweetener.

Ok, but how does this effect me?

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), aspartame consumption is not associated with adverse effects in the general population. To reach this conclusion, they evaluated numerous studies and developed conclusions based on the scientific evidence.

In terms of weight loss, according to the ADA, aspartame does not affect appetite or food consumption. Thus, consuming calorie free beverages (such as diet coke) in place of sugar-sweetened beverages (regular coke) is a potential calorie saver. So what they are saying is that the consumption of artificial sweeteners (Splenda, NutraSweet, equal, etc) does not cause a person to eat other food in order  make up for the lost calories from the “calorie free, artificially sweetened” food item or beverage. You follow? While supporting evidence is strong for it to be generally considered as safe, the evidence is limited for whether or not non-nutrative sweeteners may or may not cause a person to find their lost calories elsewhere. With limited evidence, I find this last statement to be non-conclusive and further research needs to be conducted.

I recently came across a study published in 2008, entitled “The Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweeteners” that offers up some good information and gives us a second opinion on the matter. Let’s take a look at some of the more common artificial sweeteners highlighted in this study and their effects:*

*Whitehouse CR,  Boullata J and McCauley LA. “The Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweetners.” AAOHN J. 2008 Jun;56(6):251-9.

So we see the short-term (acute) effects and long-term (chronic) effects. What can we gather from this chart? I’m thinking some good ole gastrointestinal distress! – or a gassy gut if you will, mixed in with some nausea and diarrhea. Doesn’t that sound fun? I didn’t think so either. In my opinion I find there are enough things out there to cause bloating and if I can’t avoid artificial sweeteners to avoid these unpleasant side affects, I think I will! It is important to keep in mind not everyone will experience these symptoms. Is it worth checking into how your body reacts? Think about it.

In conclusion, these sweeteners are approved by the FDA as “safe” yet studies show various symptoms associated with consumption of these artificial sweeteners that may cause discomfort or illness.

Where do natural sweeteners such as Stevia fit in you ask?

Good question. I recently had the opportunity to taste a Stevia leaf. I personally can not stand the taste. It tasted like chemical sweetness that grew slowly with strength in my mouth. What can I say, I am partial to honey anyway.  The stevia plant, sometimes marketed as “Truvia, Only Sweet, PureVia, Reb-A, Rebiana, or Sweet Leaf” is 300 times sweeter than table sugar. In 1995, stevia was approved by the FDA as a dietary supplements and in 2008 as a food additive.

Stevia Plant

The Bottom Line: These items are FDA approved yet may cause some side effects.

I am a big fan of eating organic and eating from the earth, and by earth, I mean things that are natural. Things that were originally found on earth the way nature intended and not altered in a lab. For persons who experience altered or impaired blood glucose control, the benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners may out weigh the risk. For the general adult population, I believe in eating foods in proper proportions to promote satiety (feelings of satisfaction and fullness) and balanced eating, which may include natural sugar or raw honey. Evidence is somewhat lacking for artificial sweeteners and by consuming natural foods in balanced proportions, artificial sweeteners could be one less thing to worry about.

Do you consume artificial sweeteners? Have you ever noticed any side effects?

Thanks for stopping by!


Categories: Hot!Topics | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “The 411 on Artificial Sweeteners

  1. Great article Meg! Concise and packed with really great info! I haven’t been able to stomache sweeteners for years. After experiencing regular stomache upset and discomfort I stopped any drinks that contain maltitol and those other hidden sweeteners as well. Like you, i’ll opt for a little bit of raw sugar or agave syrup rather than bothering with a sweetener.

  2. Ashley MacDonald

    I do not eat artificial sweeteners myself… very suspicious of them…and now I see I had good reason to be. Natural tastes much better anyway. Good article Meg!

  3. Thanks for the comment Ashley! I agree, natural tastes better and feels better!

  4. Tom

    Not to mention the fact that these sweeteners induce insulin responses, and insulin resistance is one of the mainstays of metabolic syndrome. Diet soda has at least been linked to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes in correlative studies 1 though no causality has been demonstrated. I had read about sucralose and GI distress previously, but there also seems to be a preliminary link of these sweeteners to gastric cancers 2. Though these obviously aren’t controlled studies, for something so easy to avoid, it seems not worth the risk.

  5. Tom

    My mistake, I misinterpreted the latter point and must retract my statement regarding gastric cancers. I’ll keep digging, though.

  6. Tom

    One more to check out because I’m bored at work:

    Ok, I’m done now.

  7. Janet S.

    Love this article & your website/blog. I recently started experimenting with different kinds of natural/organic sweetners in my coffee each morning. I’d love to see you write something that compares natural sweetners (such as honey, molasses, raw sugar, maple syrup & agave syrup) and lets us know which kind is best for your body.

    Keep up the good work!

    • nancy jones

      I, too, am interested in comparing natural sweeteners (i.e. honey, agave, molasses, maple syrup, etc.) and which is best and in what ways.

  8. Eli Nicewarner

    I always love stevia because it is a great substitute for sugar and it can be taken by diabetics. ‘;,“

    Most interesting piece of writing on our personal web site

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