Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?

Some have sufficient evidence to indicate they are safe. Some do not.

Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? Get all the key facts below, summarized by the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board, composed of physicians, university scientists, registered dietitians, and other wellness professionals who regularly review the latest scientific literature on nutrition, fitness, and healthy living.

Find out if artifical sweeteners are bad for you.

While the health experts at Pritikin recommend you satisfy your sweet tooth with naturally sweet, whole foods like fruit, does that mean that artificial sweeteners are bad for you? Not necessarily. They may, in fact, be beneficial, especially for people with diabetes.

In addition to the physicians and other faculty at Pritikin, a weight-loss resort, members of the board include research scientists such as James Barnard, PhD, UCLA School of Physiological Science; William McCarthy, PhD, UCLA School of Public Health; and Tom Rifai, MD, FACP, Medical Director of Metabolic Nutrition & Weight Management at St Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in Michigan.

Below are the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board’s conclusions.

Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?

Pritikin Program Recommendations For Calorie-Free Sweeteners

The scientific evidence on calorie-free sweeteners indicates the following:

  • Calorie-free sweeteners appear to aid weight loss when they displace concentrated sweeteners that are in beverages (for example, a diet Coke instead of a regular Coke) and in low- to moderate-calorie-dense foods (for example, calorie-free sweeteners rather than honey in oatmeal, or calorie-free sweeteners instead of sugar in nonfat yogurt). But the evidence is not conclusive. Other studies have suggested that calorie-free sweeteners have little or no long-term impact on body weight. Keep in mind that as the use of calorie-free sweeteners has increased over the last few decades, the average American has gained, not lost, weight. While there is no reason to think this association is causal, it clearly indicates that simply using more calorie-free sweeteners without other dietary changes is not the solution to long-term weight control.
    Artifical Sweeteners May Not Be Bad For You, But Whole Fruit Is Always A Better Option.

    Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? To date, there is no convincing evidence that they cause disease. The two with the best safety record are sucralose (Splenda) and stevia (Truvia, SweetLeaf).

  • Calorie-free sweeteners may be beneficial for blood sugar control and therefore of particular benefit to diabetics when used in place of refined sugars, including fruit juice concentrates.
  • To date, there is no convincing evidence that aspartame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), cyclamates, or stevia (SweetLeaf, Truvia) cause disease or pose a direct threat to human health.

Pritikin Program Recommendations:

It is always best to satisfy your sweet tooth with whole foods that are naturally sweet, like fruit. You’re getting not only the pleasure of sweet, exotic flavors but also the many benefits of fruits’ vast array of nutrients, fibers, phytonutrients, and other health-promoting substances.

If you choose to use calorie-free sweeteners, choose sucralose or stevia because they have the strongest evidence indicating they are safe.

To keep you moving in the direction of a palate that appreciates and prefers the subtler sweetness of fruit, keep your consumption of sucralose or stevia moderate – no more than 10 to 12 packets a day.

Sucralose/stevia might improve your adherence to the Pritikin Program if using them helps you make better food choices and cuts your intake of foods with added refined and/or concentrated sugars.

Some people, for example, have no problem choosing oatmeal and strawberries over a less healthy breakfast as long as the oatmeal and strawberries are sweetened with a little stevia or sucralose. Certainly, oatmeal, strawberries, and these calorie-free sweeteners are far better than, say, bagels and low-fat cream cheese.

Sucralose or stevia, however, should not displace the strawberries – or any fruit, for that matter. Fruits are rich sources of fiber and disease-fighting nutrients and are a vital part of the Pritikin Program.

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Eugenia Killoran

Senior Editor & Writer

Eugenia Killoran has been the food and fitness journalist for the Pritikin Program since 1992. She has published more than 3,000 articles, lectures, and book chapters on a wide variety of healthy living and weight-loss topics.

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