Are Artificial Sweeteners Healthy? The Pros and Cons

Artificial sweeteners have risen in popularity since their discovery over the previous century. Artificial sweeteners are everywhere — from sweetening drinks like coffee and diet soda to foods like ice cream, cookies, and baked goods. But, are they good or bad for our health? 

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six artificial sweeteners as safe for human consumption: Saccharin (Sweet’N Low); aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal); sucralose (Splenda); neotame (NutraSweet); Acesulfame-K (Sweet One); Advantame (used primarily in the food and beverage industry). 

Artificial sweeteners provide zero or very few calories and no sugar but are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sugar, based on their chemical structures. These chemicals activate the sweet receptors on our taste buds similarly to how sugar would — “tricking” our taste buds. 

Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners don’t provide calories because our digestive system can’t break them down and metabolize them. For this reason, the colorful packets became very popular around the 1980s with those trying to lose weight. However, the research following their rise in popularity has suggested that they may be doing more harm than good. 

The Pros

To be fair, there are some positives of using artificial sweeteners: 

  • Reduces Caloric and Sugar Consumption: For people who currently consume many sugary beverages and foods, artificial sweeteners may be a good step to wean off of them. 
  • Reduces Dental Cavities: Artificial sweeteners may also improve dental health and reduce cavities in adults and children prone to consuming sugar-sweetened drinks. 

The Cons

Now, for the negatives of artificial sweeteners: 

  • May Cause Weight Gain: While it sounds counterintuitive, artificial sweeteners negatively affect metabolism, leading to an increased risk of obesity or weight gain. 
  • Disrupts Satiety Signals: Artificial sweeteners alter our fullness signals, increasing appetite and hunger hormones and altering taste preferences — your taste buds will start to crave the higher amounts of sweetness!
  • Alters Sugar Metabolism: Despite having no sugar, artificial sweeteners are linked to dysfunctional glucose metabolism, which increases the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes. 

    The Bottom Line? 

    Artificial sweeteners may help you save on a few calories throughout the day, but the potential negative impact on weight and blood sugar metabolism may not be worth it.

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