Should you replace sugar with artificial sweeteners?

September 12, 2017 by Sarah Mc Naughton, The Conversation
Artificial sweeteners pose their own problems. Credit: www.shutterstock.com.au

We know Australians are consuming too much sugar. The latest results from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 52% of the population are consuming more than is recommended, and this is affecting weight and dental health.

But criticism of sugar is so widespread that sugar in foods such as milk and have also come under fire. We should be mindful it's really added sugar we need to focus on. Whole foods such as fruit and milk come with many other beneficial components. Fruit also contains vitamins, fibre and various phytochemicals compared to other sources of sugar, such as soft drinks. And the amount of sugar we consume from whole foods is generally lower, since the amount of sugar per serve is lower. In the case of fruit, we are unlikely to eat multiple pieces of fruit in one go when consumed as whole fruit compared to when consumed as fruit juice.

There's now evidence to show much of the we eat contains high levels of added sugar. Currently in Australia, there's no requirement to label foods with the amount of sugar added. This can be tricky for consumers, given "sugar" on the label may appear under many different names. So if added sugar is something to avoid, should we look to alternatives like ?

Artificial sweeteners - friend or foe?

Artificial sweeteners are food additives, also known as "intense sweeteners". They have a sweetness level that is many times that of sugar and so can be used in small amounts in food and beverages. In Australia, the use of these food additives is regulated by Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

There are a range of intense sweeteners approved for use including acesulfame potassium (Ace K), aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and steviol glycosides. Food additives, including intense sweeteners, undergo a safety review before they're permitted to be used in foods. This involves assessing whether there are any harmful effects from the additive, and modelling of potential consumption levels.

While artificial sweeteners have been proposed as a strategy for reducing energy intake and preventing weight gain, there is emerging evidence to suggest artificial sweeteners may not be as beneficial as some think.

Evidence for a role in weight gain prevention has been mixed (although conclusions seems to be influenced by the source of funding).

A recent review of 37 trials and cohort studies has shown that over the long term, use of artificial sweeteners may be associated with higher risk of metabolic syndrome (a collection of conditions that increase your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease) and type 2 diabetes.

There is also emerging evidence artificial sweeteners may adversely impact the gut microbiota and glucose tolerance. But the existing studies in this area have mainly been conducted in animal models, so further work is required in human trials before recommendations can be made.

A final concern with the use of artificial sweeteners relates to the fact that their use does not necessary help people change their taste preferences for sweetness. Therefore, they may not lead to changes in behaviours or desire for sweet foods and may lead to overconsumption elsewhere.

So it's clear we need to reduce the consumption of added sugars in our diet. Artificial sweeteners are considered safe for consumption and may be an alternative. While there is emerging evidence around some health issues, we definitely need more robust evidence, particularly in human studies, before ruling them out.

But the best advice is to look at reducing your consumption of foods high in , which are commonly processed and packaged foods, and focus on dietary patterns rich in core foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruit, wholegrains, lean meat, fish, nuts and dairy foods.

If you keep your intake of added low, and you should only need to use artificial sweeteners occasionally.

Explore further: Are artificial sweeteners counterproductive when dieting?

Related Stories

Are artificial sweeteners counterproductive when dieting?

August 1, 2017
Next time you drop an artificial sweetener into your coffee thinking of the weight you'll lose by avoiding sugar, think again.

Sugar substitutes may cut calories, but no health benefits for individuals with obesity

May 24, 2016
Artificial sweeteners help individuals with obesity to cut calories and lose weight but may have negative health effects, according to researchers at York University's Faculty of Health.

Study investigates absorption of artificial sweeteners in blood

October 24, 2016
A recent study by investigators at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health measured how much artificial sweetener is absorbed into the blood stream by children ...

Artificial sweeteners linked to risk of weight gain, heart disease and other health issues

July 17, 2017
Artificial sweeteners may be associated with long-term weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, according to a new study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

'Diet foods' to skip

July 25, 2017
(HealthDay)—Certain packaged foods marketed as "lite" or "diet" versions may not be helping your weight-loss efforts or your goal to eat healthier.

Artificial sweeteners trick the brain: study

August 10, 2017
(HealthDay)—New research may help explain the reported link between the use of artificial sweeteners and diabetes, scientists say.

Recommended for you

Hormone therapy in the menopause transition did not increase stroke risk

November 24, 2017
Postmenopausal hormone therapy is not associated with increased risk of stroke, provided that it is started early, according to a report from Karolinska Institutet published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.