Not all sweeteners are created equal, particularly for those who must control their blood sugar levels due to diabetes or other health conditions. Wintana Kiros is a registered dietitian and wellness coach for ResetLifestyle, a company situated in Maryland that serves the greater Washington, D.C. area.
According to Kros, the body identifies sugar as glucose, which it then breaks down to produce energy. The body does not recognize artificial sweeteners as glucose because they contain synthetic sweetening compounds.
She adds that artificial sweeteners are typically calorie-free or have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels when compared to sugar. This can be advantageous for individuals attempting to avoid blood sugar surges or lose weight. However, artificial sweeteners, also known as non-nutritive sweeteners, can have adverse health effects, most commonly on the intestines, and recent World Health Organization guidelines discourage their use for weight loss.
According to Kiros, there is no straightforward answer to the question of whether artificial sweeteners are superior or inferior to natural sweeteners. Both types of sweeteners have advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them largely depends on personal preferences, dietary restrictions due to food allergies or intolerance, and other factors, and, most importantly, the individual’s overall health objectives.
Potential Allergenic and Metabolic Hazards of Saccharin and Sucralose
Artificial sweeteners are generally regarded as harmless for consumption by humans.
U.S. and international authorities rigorously test and regulate them to ensure that they are safe to consume and drink. However, certain individuals should avoid consuming them. Individuals with the uncommon metabolic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize the aspartame-contained amino acid phenylalanine. Therefore, individuals with PKU should avoid aspartame.
In addition, some individuals are allergic to sulfonamides, the class of chemical compounds to which saccharin pertains. For them, saccharin may cause difficulty inhaling, rashes, or diarrhea. In addition, mounting evidence suggests that some artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, reduce insulin sensitivity and alter gut flora.
Some sugar substitutes are derived from fruits and berries, including xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. During processing, the carbohydrates in these products are altered. It is essential for diabetics to remember that these products may affect their blood glucose levels and can increase their total caloric intake. In order to avoid blood sugar surges and overeating, diabetics should incorporate sugar alcohol-containing foods into their overall meal plans.
Kiros advises patients to avoid alcohol-based sugar substitutes due to their detrimental effect on gastrointestinal health. Sugar alcohols are designed to be difficult for our digestive systems to assimilate; if we cannot absorb them, we are unable to access their calories. Sugar alcohols can cause gas, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea as adverse effects.