Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are added to foods, drinks, and supplements to make them taste sweet without the extra calories. Sounds great, right?
The bacteria in our gut are incredibly important and are known to protect your gut against infection, produce important vitamins and nutrients and even help regulate your immune system.
A disruption or imbalance (dysbiosis) in this system in the body can wreak havoc on our health.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 8 AS or nonnutritive sweeteners to date:
- Acesulfame K or potassium
- Lu han guo (monk fruit)
- Stevia (Rebaudioside REBODIOSIDE A or stevioside ).
These sweeteners are not absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract where we absorb sugar.
Instead, these sweeteners make their way to the lower part of your digestive track and they become food for the bacteria that are living in the colon.
In one study, scientists found that when mice ate the sweetener saccharin, the numbers and types of bacteria in their guts changed, including a reduction in some beneficial bacteria.
But isn’t stevia good because its “natural”?
One study found that stevia kills large numbers of Lactobacillus, which is known to be good bacteria for your gut health. Most of the research that considers stevia safe and possibly beneficial, is industry funded and should be interpreted with caution.
When I work with my clients on improving their gut health and optimizing their health, I have them remove these ingredients from their diet. More often than not, they notice a benefit in their digestion, mood, and energy.
The bottom line is that there could be long term metabolic health risks of these artificial ingredients that may not be shown in short term toxological data. If you want to learn more in depth about how these sweeteners can impact the gut, weight gain, and mental health, listen to episode 8 on my podcast.
I advise my clients to use sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, regular sugar, date paste, fruit etc. in moderation to add sweetness. If you aren’t getting enough calories, protein, or fiber in your diet or you have high stress levels, you might feel like your sugar cravings are worse. Address the root cause and you will find that you actually don’t need much sugar in your life when your body feels nourished.