With the recent public demonization of sugar, the use of sugar substitutes has skyrocketed. But have the health effects of these sweeteners been fully examined? Sugar substitutes typically fall into one of these categories: sugar alcohols, sugars that do not significantly impact blood-glucose levels, and nonnutritive sweeteners. Some studies have shown that consumption of nonnutritive sweeteners, mostly in diet sodas, has been associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Nonnutritive sweeteners possibly promote metabolic dysregulation by affecting our gut bacteria (or microbiota), impacting our sweet-taste receptors, and interfering with our body's response to control blood sugar. Sugar substitutes may be causing a cephalic phase insulin release where the body anticipates an increase in glucose levels so it releases insulin. In other words, sweeteners may be "tricking" our body into thinking it is receiving the real deal (glucose) and the body releases insulin in response to the wrong molecule.
Consumers should also be aware of the following synthetic sweeteners: Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Equal, NutraSweet, Saccharin, Sweet’n Low, Sucralose, Splenda & Sorbitol. You probably know that aspartame has been the subject of controversial debate regarding its safety in foods and beverages. After ingestion and absorption of aspartame, the concentration of its metabolites increase in the blood, which have then been demonstrated to induce neurotoxicity and have long-term effects on the antioxidant glutathione-dependent system in the brain. With glutathione being the master antioxidant in our body, long-term ingestion of aspartame may cause major problems in our immune system. Because the immune system, inflammation, and mental health disorders are intricately linked together, elimination of aspartame-containing products may be beneficial for those suffering from mood or mental disorders. Artificial sweeteners do not provide any nutritional value, so replacing these sweeteners with raw honey is optimal (especially because raw honey is antioxidant-rich with anti-bacterial properties!)
What if you're craving sweets and need a sugar replacement? Incorporate colorful fruits into your daily diet and use raw local honey to get a natural source of sugar while limiting your intake of sugar substitutes. The more natural the sweetener, the better!
Qurrat-ul-Ain, & Khan, S. A. (2015). Artificial sweeteners: safe or unsafe?. JPMA. The Journal Of The Pakistan Medical Association, 65(2), 225-227.
Pepino, M. Y. (2015). Review: Metabolic effects of non-nutritive sweeteners. Physiology & Behavior, 152(Part B), 450-455. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.06.024