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Sugar is a hot topic in nutrition. Cutting back can improve your health and help you lose weight.

Replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners is one way to do that. However, some people claim that artificial sweeteners aren’t as “metabolically inert” as previously thought. For example, it’s been claimed that they can raise blood sugar and insulin levels.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals that stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue. They are often called low-calorie or non-nutritive sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals that stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue. They are often called low-calorie or non-nutritive sweeteners.

This article takes a look at the science behind these claims.

What are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals that stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue. They are often called low-calorie or non-nutritive sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners give things a sweet taste, without any added calories (1).

Therefore, they’re often added to foods that are then marketed as “health foods” or diet products.

They’re found everywhere, from diet soft drinks and desserts, to microwave meals and cakes. You’ll even find them in non-food items, such as chewing gum and toothpaste.

Here’s a list of the most common artificial sweeteners:

  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Neotame

Bottom Line: Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals that make things taste sweet without any extra calories.

What Causes Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels to Rise?

We have tightly controlled mechanisms to keep our blood sugar levels stable (2, 3, 4).

Blood sugar levels increase when we eat foods containing carbohydrates.

Potatoes, bread, pasta, cakes and sweets are some foods that are high in 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.

Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key. It allows blood sugar to leave the blood and enter our cells, where it can be used for energy or stored as fat.

If blood sugar levels drop too low, our livers release stored sugar to stabilize it. This happens when we fast for prolonged periods, like overnight.

There are theories on how artificial sweeteners may interfere with this process (5).

1. Insulin is released in response to the sweet taste.

2. Regular use changes the balance of our gut bacteria. This could make our cells resistant to the insulin we produce, leading to both increased blood sugar and insulin levels.

Bottom Line: Eating carbohydrates causes a rise in blood sugar levels. Insulin is released to bring blood sugar levels back to normal. Some claim that artificial sweeteners may interfere with this process.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Artificial sweeteners won’t raise your blood sugar levels in the short-term.

So, a can of diet coke, for example, won’t cause a rise in blood sugar.

However, in 2014, Israeli scientists made headlines when they linked artificial sweeteners to changes in gut bacteria.

Mice, when fed artificial sweeteners for 11 weeks, had negative changes in their gut bacteria that caused increased blood sugar levels (6).

When they implanted the bacteria from these mice into germ-free mice, they also had increases in blood sugar levels.

Interestingly, the scientists were able to reverse the increase in blood sugar levels by changing the gut bacteria back to normal.

However, these results haven’t been tested or replicated in humans.

There is only one observational study in humans that has suggested a link between aspartame and changes to gut bacteria (7).

The long-term effects of artificial sweeteners in humans are therefore unknown (8).

It is theoretically possible that artificial sweeteners can raise blood sugar levels by negatively affecting gut bacteria, but it hasn’t been tested.

Bottom Line: In the short-term, artificial sweeteners won’t raise blood sugar levels. However, the long-term effects in humans are unknown.

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