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What’s the New Skinny on Diet Sweeteners

For decades we informed clients uncounted excess caloric intake results in weight gain. The biggest hidden calories are those consumed in beverages. So the strategy by many a dieter, nutritionist, and health care provider is to switch out caloric drinks with those of low to zero calories. The quickest way to enjoy your favorite beverage while consuming no calories is to grab a non-sugar sweetened drink instead of one with sugar. Suddenly that advice has changed.

First a look at the non-sugar sweeteners you are likely to encounter in your every day drinks:

  1. Aspartame: Aspartame is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners. It is often found in diet sodas and other sugar-free beverages. Aspartame is used in many popular brand names such as NutraSweet and Equal.
  2. Sucralose: Sucralose is a sweetener that is derived from sugar but undergoes a chemical process that renders it non-caloric. It is heat-stable, making it suitable for cooking and baking. Splenda is a well-known brand that uses sucralose.
  3. Saccharin: Saccharin was one of the earliest artificial sweeteners and is often used in diet drinks and other low-calorie products. It’s sold under brand names like Sweet’N Low.
  4. Stevia: Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia plant. It is considered to be many times sweeter than sugar but has zero calories. Stevia is used in some diet drinks and food products, often under brand names like Truvia and Stevia in the Raw.
  5. Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K): Acesulfame potassium is a calorie-free sweetener that is often used in combination with other sweeteners to enhance sweetness. It’s commonly found in diet sodas and other sugar-free products.
  6. Monk Fruit Extract: Monk fruit extract is another natural sweetener derived from the monk fruit. It is often used as a sweetener in combination with other ingredients, as it is very sweet and can have a distinct aftertaste when used alone.

A new guideline from WHO recommends to not consume aspartame, sucralose and stevia. They have little data on the others in that list. Firstly, there is only conflicting data on the ability of those drinks to drive meaningful long term weight loss or fat loss. Not only that but some new studies lead us to believe that there may be increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. While these facts are somewhat alarming, they aren’t conclusive as of yet.

We do want you to know there have been reported side effects of sweeteners that are fairly far reaching. There are some studies to indicate sweeteners can affect the gut microbiome. Other reported symptoms secondary to sweetener consumptions such as anxiety, bladder pain, behavior issues, or actually craving high calorie foods haven’t been backed up by research.

It’s always best to get any serious symptoms checked out, and clearly the symptoms above have many possible causes to explore before attributing them to your sweetener consumption, but yet, consider the evidence if you are consuming many diet drinks. There are several artificial sweeteners on the market and much of the study has actually been linked to the sweetener aspartame. Initial aspartame studies focused on the lack of calories in the agent, and thus it’s ability to lower your daily calorie intake, more research show that there are possible health consequences. We do not think sweeteners cause cancer, that has been well researched.

And the CDC as recently as of a few years ago has said there is no evidence for the existence of serious, widespread, adverse health consequences from use of aspartame as per Dr. Marie-Eileen ONieal, as reported in the Sept 1017 clinical reviews.com However when the sweetener aspartame is broken down in your body it releases amino acids, and then it further breaks down to methanol and then eventually to formaldehyde and formic acid, both of which may be responsible for some of the symptoms in long term high consumers of these products. The above mentioned symptoms/medical issues have been statistically linked with the use of artificial sweeteners, so if you are not going to quit their consumption, consider moderation!


Suzanne Trupin, MD, Board Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist and owner of Women's Health Practice, Hada Cosmetic Medicine, and Hatha Yoga and Fitness

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