Artificial sweeteners are great for maintaining taste while cutting the calories, but they can work against you if you’re not careful.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved eight sugar substitutes as safe for consumption. Maggy Boyd, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, says they can help with blood sugar control or weight loss plans when used correctly. But if not, weight gain and even some health risks are possible.
Health benefits of artificial sweeteners: I don’t know if there’s necessarily health benefits, but these artificial sweeteners can be used to optimize your blood sugar control by consuming less real sugar, or it can help promote weight loss when substituting these sugar-free, calorie-free sweeteners for their counterparts that are the real sugar versions.
Any we should avoid: All eight sugar substitutes are safe for consumption as long as you aren't exceeding the acceptable daily intake. For each of those, there’s a maximum amount you can consume in a day. For instance, you would have to eat 75 packets of Equal or 25 packets of Splenda in a day to even reach those amounts.
Health risks: If you’re over-consuming those sweeteners or using some not approved by the FDA, there could definitely be health risks. These artificial sweeteners aren’t entirely absorbed by the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, so you could have GI symptoms: diarrhea, bloating, nausea, vomiting, if you consume too much of these.
Weight gain: Sugar-free substitutes don’t contain calories. Sometimes when individuals use them, they think they have "saved" calories. That can lead to weight gain when you’re using the substitute as an excuse to eat more. But if you them in an overall calorie restricted plan, you can lose weight.
- American Diabetes Association: Low Calorie Sweeteners
- Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits
- Harvard School of Public Health: Artificial Sweeteners
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.