Are artificial sweeteners safe in diabetes?

Frequently, we are advised to reduce our sugar intake. In fact recent guidelines have advised us to reduce our added sugar to <10% of our daily energy. In every day terms,  just one sugary drink a day will almost exceed this! So are artificial sweeteners safe as an alternative?

So are artificial sweeteners a good alternatives?

Sweeteners have been around for over a century. Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener to be discovered in 1878. Soon after its discovery, it was released for use to the general public, but uptake was initially poor. That was until the sugar shortages during the world wars when the popularity of sweeteners began to grow.

As the use of sweeteners increased, over the years new types became available:

  • Aspartame (found in Equal)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Stevia, a herbal product (Equal Stevia, Jovia)
  • Sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, sorbitol (XyloSweet)

These days sweeteners are a regular feature in modern day food and beverages. Such as drinks, yoghurts, confectionary and even toothpaste!

Why use sweeteners?

A good question indeed! Most artificial sweeteners are extremely low in calories and carbohydrate. They add a sweet taste to foods without adding energy and raising blood glucose levels. This makes them a useful choice for people with diabetes.

For example: swapping a sugar sweetened beverage to an artificially sweetened beverage can save 140kcal and 6 teaspoons of sugar per can!

The exception to this rule are the sugar alcohols which do contain some energy and carbohydrate. Compared to sugar sweetened foods and beverages, sweeteners also offer protection against dental caries.

Are artificial sweeteners safe?

Over the past few decades there have been concerns over the safety of artificial sweeteners. One of the claims made, was that sweeteners can increase risk of cancers.

This arose after a study in the 1970s found a possible link between saccharin and bladder cancer in rats, not humans. Since then, many large studies on people have provided strong evidence that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans.
As part of the vigourous safety evaluation, the EFSA and USFDA work with manufacturers to set an acceptable daily intake for sweeteners (ADI).  This is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. It is actually quite hard to exceed this, for example; according to the US Food and Drug Administration, a 60kg person can safely consume, 23 table top packets of sucralose, 45 table top packets of saccharin and up to 75 table top packets of aspartame per day before they exceed the ADI.

Something to bear in mind…

In recent times it has been suggested that artificial sweeteners may have a stimulating effect on appetite. Therefore, they may play a role in weight gain and obesity. As it stands, research shows inconsistent results, which warrants further long term studies into this claim.

So, when it comes to sweeteners, the choice is yours. If you struggle to reduce your sugar intake, they can be a useful way to help manage your blood glucose levels and maintain dental health.

Just for fun, here are 3 facts that you may not know about sweeteners:

facts on artificial sweeteners