Artificial Sweeteners or Sugar Substitutes: Good or Bad for you?

The short answer is: some are safe in moderation, most others you should avoid. Artificial sweeteners have been a mainstay in the weight loss world, as well as used for managing blood sugar with those with diabetes.  The latter use has given artificial sweeteners more legitimacy in the health field than has ever been proven.

Artificial sweeteners have been used in the food industry to make processed foods that are already deemed unhealthy appear as a somewhat better option.  Diet pop is not healthy, nor is non-fat, no sugar ice cream.

The Research

On-going research is showing that there is a correlation between people that take artificial sweeteners and increased weight gain.  However researchers were not able to find a cause for this relationship. Other studies have found that artificial sweeteners modify the gut flora in mice.  The change in bacteria  the mice’s gastrointestinal tract was similar to that associated with type 2 diabetes in humans.  So while Stevia is a naturally occurring sweetener, and deemed safe by the table below, I still wonder if not being able to digest this carbohydrate would also change our GI tract in a way that is not beneficial.

The amount of added sugars we now consume are as much as a health concern as the added salt in our diets.  However the tiny amount of sugar we put in a coffee or the salt that we add to a home-cooked meal is not the problem.  Approximately 80% of the salt we take in is from processed foods.  The average American takes in 22 teaspoons of added sugar today, mainly from sugary sweets, baked goods and processed foods.

What Should you Do?

When counselling my clients, I suggest eating foods in their most natural form.  Eat cookies you make yourself.  Eat ice cream that has fat and sugar in it, in moderation, so that your body is satisfied.  Rather than having an unsatisfying bowl, or two, of plastic-y non-fat ice cream.  Use a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, it’s not the problem, that weird chemical in tiny package next to the sugar or that massive processed sugary muffin/scone in the food case is.  Also don’t be fooled that brown sugar, honey or maple syrup is healthier for you.  The body metabolizes these added sugars all the same way.

Artificial Sweeteners

Brand Name




Avoid (not enough safety tests done)



Avoid (research shows causes cancer in mice.  Linked to slightly increase risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma in men)


Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin

Avoid (banned in US)


Stevia in the Raw, SweetLeaf, Pure Via, Truvia, Sugar Twin Stevia

Safe (no safety concerns in studies yet)



Avoid (previously banned in Canada)


Splenda, Sugar Twin Sucralose


“Natural” High-potency Sweeteners

Brand Name


Monk fruit extract

Caution (no long-term safety tests done)

Stevia leaf extract

Pure Via, Stevia in the Raw, Sugar Twin Stevia, SweetLeaf, Truvia

Safe (no safety concerns in studies yet)

Sugar Alcohols

Brand Name



Pure Via, Sugar Twin Stevia, Truvia

Safe in moderation

Can cause GI upset

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate







**Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter