Artificial Sweeteners: Helpful or Harmful?


It’s a new year, and a new decade, a time of well-intentioned healthy beginnings for many.  With weight loss high on the list of New Year’s resolutions, any help with calorie reduction is helpful.  Are artificial sweeteners a healthy way of reducing calories, and will they really help people lose weight?

There are several FDA approved artificial sweeteners.  Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, SugarTwin), Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One), and Sucralose (Splenda) are used as additives in diet beverages and some baked goods.  Some are sold in packets and as sugar substitutes for home baking.  All are considered safe when kept below their ADI (Accepted Daily Intake), which is high enough that most people will not exceed it.  Whether or not they are effective for weight control depends on how they fit into an eating plan.

Some people claim to have negative side effects from consuming artificial sweeteners.  Complaints include headaches, digestive discomfort, and sweet cravings.  Since most people use these products as a means of reducing calorie intake, sweet cravings that result in extra calories consumed can wipe out the weight loss benefit altogether.  For people who are able to reduce calories by consuming diet drinks as opposed to sugar sweetened beverages, artificial sweeteners will help with weight control.   Beware of artificially sweetened baked goods though!  They may have a reduced sugar content, but there are plenty of other calorie dense ingredients in most cookies and cakes, and there is not usually much nutrient value.  Claims of a cancer risk from consuming artificial sweeteners are not supported by research.

It is true that Americans consume far more added sugar than we should for optimal health.  As a means of reducing sugar intake, artificial sweeteners can help.  Still, switching from regular soda to diet soda does not necessarily improve a person’s overall health.  What other beverages are you drinking?  Water would be better and it contains no calories, so if all you drink is diet soda, try substituting water for some of the soda.  In the case of “diet” baked goods, a piece of fruit would be much better for health and weight control.

With a new decade here, try easing into the changes you plan to make.  Ask yourself if artificial sweeteners help or hurt you in meeting your goals.  Everyone is different, so be aware of how you react to them.  There is no reason that a plan for weight loss has to include “fake food.”  There is no need to make weight loss more complicated than it is.  Listen to the signals your body gives, and work toward a plan that reduces your calories in the most painless manner possible!  Cheers to your health!

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2 responses to “Artificial Sweeteners: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. Great info, Kim! I recently got off all caffeinated diet soda, and 90% of all diet soda and I feel SO much better. I don’t have the IBS-like symptoms I had before and my water intake has much improved! I also sleep better and night and noticed a difference in my endurance…amazing!

    • kimthedietitian

      That’s great! I have no doubt that soda of any kind can irritate a person’s digestive tract. And I hear about a lot of people with “IBS-like symptoms.” It’s something to consider – giving up soda – to see what happens with those symptoms.

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