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June 29, 2019 3 min read

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

If you're trying to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet, you're not alone. As many Americans look to lose weight and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, they are ditching high-calorie sugar for a sugar substitute or artificial sweetener. In fact, lowering sugar intake continues to be one of the National Dietary Guidelines put forth year after year by the United States government.

Artificial sweeteners are additives used in food that provide a sweet taste similar to sugar, while providing few or no additional calories. These sweeteners can be processed synthetically or found naturally in plant extracts.

Most artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar itself. Aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet n' Low) and sucralose (Splenda) are among the most popular that are synthetically made. However,some studies link these sweeteners to increased appetite and cravings for sugary food. For this reason as well as other health concerns about synthetic sweeteners, Stevia — which is naturally derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana — has quickly become a favorite. TheStevia plant itself actually has medicinal properties that lend health benefits

With the growing popularity of artificial sweeteners has come great controversy on whether or not they are actually better for you than regular sugar, and the research appears to be mixed.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms that may lead to diabetes and heart disease. These symptoms include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, increased abdominal fat and high cholesterol levels.

One study reviewed the effects of aspartame on metabolic function and found no reduction in blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol or weight when it was substituted for regular sugar. Yet another study showed a reduction in both calories consumed and body mass index (BMI) when noncaloric sweeteners were used in place of table sugar.

As you can see, the research on whether artificial sweeteners reduce blood glucose and insulin levels or contribute to diabetes appears to be inconclusive.

Cancer

The concern that artificial sweeteners could cause cancer has been circulating since the 1970s, when one research study made big news. In the study, a high percentage of rats fed a mixture of saccharin and cyclamate (an artificial sweetener now banned in the U.S.) developed bladder cancer. Since then, numerous studies have been conducted on rats which show no correlation to cancer. Animal data isn’t enough, but a review of human studies also showed no correlation between artificial sweeteners and cancer.

Gut Health 

The effect of artificial sweeteners on our overall digestion and gut health is another concern. Research has shown that using artificial sweeteners can actually change the makeup of the gut microbiome. Overall, it does appear that many artificial sweeteners can lead to changes in gut health, which could have long-term health implications.

Sugar substitutes containing sugar alcohols can cause excessive gas, abdominal discomfort and have a laxative effect in people who are sensitive to these substances. However, sugar alcohols can also potentially provide prebiotic benefits, according to a 2015 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition as well as a 2010 study in Beneficial Microbes.

While some Stevia products may contain sugar alcohols, when a highly purified form of this natural sweetener is used in moderation it can be consumed without concern about side effects. The Stevia extract used to sweeten our INVIGOR8 Superfood Shakes is highly purified, and is safe to consume for those who do not have a sensitivity to sugar alcohol or a gastrointestinal condition.

The verdict may still be out, and further research is needed on the effectiveness and safety of artificial sweeteners. What is evident is that using naturally sweet foods such as fruit, honey and maple syrup to sweeten other foods whenever possible will always be the healthiest choice. However, if you're looking to cut calories, choosing items that use pure Stevia extract, a natural sweetener, may be the best option.

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