A hot topic last week in the world of nutrition: the effect of artificial sweeteners on your health. Artificial sweeteners seem to make life so easy, you can enjoy your occasional soda without getting the calories. I almost always choose the diet version when ordering soda, but looking into the newest research results, is that a smart choice?
The sweeteners that I will discuss in this article are aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. They do not provide any calories and are a lot (up to 20,000x) sweeter than sugar. These sweeteners do not contain any calories because our body cannot digest them. They pass trough your digestive system without being absorbed.
In your large intestine live an incredible amount of bacteria; the microbiota. Because the sweeteners are not digested or absorbed they pass the microbiota, and here is where they have effects. A mice study now shows changes in the composition of the microbiota after the mice received sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin or sucralose) in their drinking water. In my PhD (I’m starting in a week, so excited!) I will also look into the effects that changes in the microbiota have on health. It is not completely clear how changes in microbiota composition influence health, but it is certain that it does have effects. That nutrition can change the composition of the microbiota has been known for a while, but now we also know that artificial sweeteners influence the microbiota. In humans the changes in microbiota after the consumption of artificial sweeteners has not been consistently shown yet, for that large and controlled studies are needed.
Back to the mice, the changes in microbiota in these mice led to a development of type 2 diabetes. In humans this has not been proven yet, the effects of sweeteners in humans seem to differ between persons. In some the blood sugar level rises (an indication that consumption could lead to diabetes) while in others nothing happens. Furthermore, an old (1988) study in diabetic patients did not find any effect of artificial sweeteners on blood sugar levels.
It is often heard that artificial sweeteners increase the risk of cancer, but this has not been scientifically proven. There are enough reasons to consume artificial sweeteners in moderation, but cancer risk luckily is not one of them.
What do I do?
I am adjusting my opinion on diet sodas and artificial sweeteners after these research results. I am not never going to drink a diet coke again, let’s not exaggerate. I am also not afraid that if I drink a glass of diet soda, eat a sugarfree piece of candy or eat a bowl of yogurt that is sweetend with artificial sweeteners, I will develop diabetes. But I do know now that artificial sweeteners have negative effects on your health, and should be consumed with moderation.
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