What are artificial sweeteners and are they safe?

What are artificial sweeteners and are they safe?

People around the world turn to artificial sweeteners in an effort to minimise calories and manage their weight. But what exactly are sugar substitutes and are they really good for you?

What’s the difference between artificial sweeteners and natural sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes are food additives that provide the taste of sweetness of sugar but without the calories. They include artificial sweeteners and naturally derived sugar substitutes.

  • Artificial sweeteners (eg. saccharin, sucralose, aspartame) – manufactured by synthetically combining two or more chemical elements together. 
  • Naturally derived sugar substitutes (eg. stevia extract, monk fruit extract) – extracted from natural sources, mainly plants

Each sugar substitute is unique in its chemical makeup but essentially provides the same sensory experience - sweetness. 

Are artificial sugars safe?

The food industry considers artificial sugars as a solution to effective weight loss, since they allow you to satisfy your sweet cravings without the extra calories, however that’s not the whole story. Providing zero calorie sweetness comes with a cost – a huge one.

The impact of artificial sweeteners on metabolic diseases

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified some artificial sweeteners as ‘safe’, however their definition of safe is primarily based on cancer risk. While these artificial sweeteners may not increase your cancer risk, daily consumption of these sweeteners can impact your risk of developing other serious conditions. 

Accumulating evidence suggests that excessive consumption of artificial sweeteners is correlated with increased risk of metabolic syndrome - high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist as well as high cholesterol levels.

Studies have also shown that regular consumption of beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners is linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Although the mechanism is unclear, it is believed that artificial sweeteners interfere with your body’s learned response to glucose and energy balance. 

Simply put - even though artificial sweeteners may not directly increase your blood sugar levels, they can have an impact on your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and hormones associated with it.

The impact of artificial sweeteners on your gut microbes

digestive health gut microbes

Gut microbes play an important role not only in our digestion, but also our immune systems,moods, and general well-being. They are the ‘friendly bacteria’ that help us break down our food and supply us with various beneficial compounds in return.

The majority of these microbes reside in our large intestine (or colon). Our bodies are unable to digest artificial sweeteners. They pass through our GI tract without being properly digested and end up in our colon where they come in direct contact with our gut microbes.

Research has shown that prolonged consumption of these artificial sweeteners can decrease the number of beneficial bacteria and increase the number of harmful bacteria in your gut. This could in turn affect your digestion (especially if you already have a sensitive tummy!), mood, energy levels, as well as your immune function.

More importantly, studies have demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can alter your gut ecosystem (called gut microbiome) in a way that can trigger inflammatory response, which further promotes insulin resistance, fat storage and weight gain. 

Is sugar really so bad? 

It goes without saying that overconsumption of sugar can lead to weight gain and other health conditions. However, using sugar in small amounts is absolutely fine. In fact, it is necessary that we include some sugar as part of a healthy diet.

We humans have an innate need for sugar, which is why we crave sweetness. So, completely restricting yourself from sugar is likely to do more harm than good in the long run. Sugar restriction does not only amplify your sweet cravings but also influence your mindset (and behaviour) towards food.  

Evidence shows that consuming artificial sweeteners instead of sugar can give you a false sense of permission to over consume other non-healthy foods later. Because artificially sweetened snacks or beverages provide less calories, it can trick you into thinking that it’s okay to binge on something as a reward because you have earned it. This can essentially lead to increased energy intake. 

The sugar used in Fodbods

fodbods bowl

We made Fodbods to provide a healthy and gut-friendly snack using only natural ingredients. This is why Fodbods are sweetened with high-quality, natural sugar in the form of organic rice malt syrup. 

While this adds a few extra calories, it does not have a toxic effect on your gut or overall health. Moreover, the amount of sugar in each Fodbods bar (~5.5g in the mini bars, ~10g in the larger ones) is just enough to satisfy your cravings while remaining well below the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s recommended daily sugar intake (roughly 25g for the average adult). This is pretty low compared to some protein bars you find in the supermarket, which can contain up to 22g of added sugar!

So, you can enjoy Fodbods knowing wholeheartedly that every ingredient is safe and well under the standard dietary guidelines.


Article by Thimpika Sachdej, qualified Nutritionist

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