Do Artificial Sweeteners Promote Diabetes?

Sugar-free sweeteners would seem to be a good choice for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, but the latest research suggests exactly the opposite. Nutrition Diva explains why. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #390

doartificialsweetenerspromotediabetesArtificial sweeteners like Splenda and Equal were once touted as a calorie-counter’s best friends: You can drink all the sweet tea, lemonade, and soda you like, without ingesting a single calorie or gram of sugar. You can even eat pudding, ice cream, yogurt, baked goods and other desserts sweetened with sugar-free substitutes. And yet, the proliferation of sugar-free foods and beverages doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the obesity epidemic.

I tackled this paradox in one of the very first Nutrition Diva episodes back in 2008. Back then, we still weren’t sure whether there was something about artificial sweeteners that directly promoted weight gain. Scientists wondered, for example, whether artificial sweeteners might backfire by causing cravings for other sweets or an increased appetite that would lead you to consume more calories. Early studies in rats seemed to support this theory, but results in human trials were mixed.

Alternatively, it could have been more of a behavioral phenomenon. For example, it could be that using artificial sweeteners gives people a false sense of security that leads them to over-consume other foods. (The old “I’m having Diet Coke so super-size the fries” effect.) 

This much is crystal clear: Artificial sweeteners do not automatically lead to weight loss or prevent weight gain. Among people who ue artificial sweeteners, the only ones who seem to consistently lose or maintain their weight are the ones who also strictly monitor and restrict their intake of other foods.    

How Do Artificial Sweeteners Affect Blood Sugar?

Another supposed advantage of artificial sweeteners is that they do not cause an increase in blood sugar the way sugar does. This would seem to have obvious benefits for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. But the latest research suggests exactly the opposite.

Although the artificial sweeteners themselves don’t cause your blood sugar to rise, they appear to have a ngeative impact on your blood sugar response to other foods. After ingesting sucralose (Splenda), for example, subjects had higher blood sugar and insulin spikes from the foods they ate afterward.  Another large study this year found that those who regularly use aspartame (Equal) have significant alterations in their ability to manage glucose—and this was particularly evident in those who are overweight.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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