A couple questions I get asked from time to time is about artificial sweeteners effect on insulin levels and do they have any impact on blood sugar. This topic has been brought up by a few people who believe that artificial sweeteners are just as bad, or possibly worse than refined sugar for diabetics. So let me delve into this…
Artificial sweeteners effect on blood sugar.
Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, low-calorie sweeteners or nonnutritive sweeteners do not affect your blood sugar level. In fact, most artificial sweeteners are considered “free foods” — foods containing less than 20 calories and 5 grams or less of carbohydrates — because they don’t count as calories or carbohydrates on a diabetes exchange. If you are diabetic you can use most sugar substitutes including:
Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
Stevia (Pure Via, Truvia)
However, you need to always bear in mind that other ingredients in foods containing artificial sweeteners can still affect your blood sugar level. You still need to fully read food labels if you have concerns about your blood sugar. Because of the misperception that foods are healthier when they are sugar-free, some people end up consuming more than they should and still have weight problems as a result of this. A good many sugar free sweet treats are still void of any real nutritional value and are full of empty calories.
But what about sugar alcohols effect on blood sugar?
Sugar alcohols are a category of sweet carbohydrates. Since sugar alcohols are partially resistant to digestion, they act like dietary fiber. As the name implies, they are like hybrids of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules, yet they do not contain any ethanol. Sugar alcohols are safe for people who misuse alcohol.
Several sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. However, most are processed from other sugars, such as from glucose in cornstarch. Because sugar alcohols have a similar chemical structure as sugar, they activate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue. Unlike artificial and low-calorie sweeteners, sugar alcohols do contain calories, just fewer than plain sugar
Most sugar alcohols have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. In the case of erythritol and mannitol, the glycemic index is zero. The only exception is maltitol, which has a glycemic index of 36. However, this is still very low compared to sugar and refined carbohydrates. For people with metabolic syndrome, prediabetes or diabetes, sugar alcohols, with the exception of maltitol can be considered excellent alternatives to sugar.
Sugar alcohols are not artificial sweeteners. They are popular as low-calorie sweeteners, yet the main problem with sugar alcohols is that some of them can cause digestive problems, especially when consumed in large amounts. Your body cannot digest most of them, so they travel to the large intestine where they are metabolized by your gut bacteria. If you eat a lot of sugar alcohols in a short period of time, you may experience gas, bloating and diarrhea.
I personally use a lot of Swerve products which is a brand name for Erythritol which is generally considered one of the healthiest sugar alcohols. Erythritol is calorie-free, doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and is far less likely to cause you any digestive upset than the other sugar alcohols.
Artificial sweeteners effects on insulin.
We know that blood sugar levels increase when we eat foods containing carbohydrates. When digested, carbohydrates are broken down into sugar and absorbed into the bloodstream, leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar levels rise, our body releases insulin.
But, what about when we consume artificial sweeteners?
There is a response known as cephalic phase insulin release which is triggered by the sight, smell, and taste of food, as well as chewing and swallowing. This response causes small amounts of insulin to be released before any sugar enters our bloodstream when we begin eating.
Depending on the type of sweetener, the effect of artificial sweeteners on insulin levels appears to be variable:
Scientists believe sucralose causes insulin increase by triggering sweet taste receptors in the mouth which can cause cephalic phase insulin release. In one study, 17 people were given either sucralose or water and then administered a glucose tolerance test. Those given sucralose had 20% higher blood insulin levels. (1)
Aspartame is perhaps the most well-known and most controversial artificial sweetener. Studies have not linked aspartame with raised insulin levels. (1)
Scientists have investigated whether stimulating the sweet receptors in the mouth with saccharin leads to an increase in insulin levels and have had mixed results.One study found that mouth washing with a saccharin solution (without swallowing) caused insulin levels to rise. Other studies have found no effects. (1)
Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K) can increase insulin levels in rats. One study in rats looked at how injecting large amounts of acesulfame-K affected insulin levels. They found a massive increase of 114-210%. However, the effect of acesulfame-K on insulin levels in humans is unknown.(1)
The bottom line on artificial sweeteners:
Sweeteners are among the food additives that create a considerable amount of debate. Artificial sweeteners are considered to be potential high-consumption food additives because of their use in products consumed in large amounts, such as soft drinks, and ‘‘tabletop’’ sweeteners. Although the scientific evidence indicates that the sweeteners permitted for food use are safe, some individuals and organizations remain skeptical about long-term health risks due to their consumption . Studies of artificial sweeteners have had mixed results, with some indicating that people using them eat fewer calories and lose weight or maintain a stable weight. However, in a few studies, artificial sweeteners were associated with weight gain, which might increase the risk of developing insulin resistance which is a condition where the cells in your body do not respond properly to insulin and thus cannot easily absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
Artificial sweeteners have been declared safe by regulatory bodies in the US and Europe. Although they might not be exactly healthy, they are still a far better choice than refined sugar. If you consume them as a part of your diet, there is no good reason for you to refrain from their use if in moderation.