Whether you’re trying to lose weight or have been diagnosed with risk of diabetes, you may have thought of switching to artificial sweeteners. We know that sugary things can drive insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But the role of artificial sweeteners has always been under debate. Many diabetes patients are asked to swap sugar with artificial sweetener in their meals. But is it really as healthy as advertised?
“Various studies suggest that reaching for artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar may be trading one evil for another. For some people, artificial sweeteners may lead to type 2 diabetes; however, this research is still not conclusive,” says nutritionist Neha Sahaya.
What happens when you swap artificial sweetener for sugar is something many researchers are trying to find out. There is some data, but not enough to conclusively term it as good or bad.
What happens when you eat sugar?
Whenever you put a sugary treat in your mouth, the brain and the gut alert the pancreas to start producing insulin. This is in response to the expectation that your glucose level in the blood will go up. But if you are eating or drinking anything with artificial sweetener, then the glucose never appears in the bloodstream. The pancreas looks for glucose to trigger the release of insulin. Since every artificial sweetener is different chemically, it is difficult to understand its effect.
According to a 2014 study from Israel, it was found that artificial sweeteners changed the microbiotic makeup of rodents’ guts in ways linked to metabolic disease. It is difficult to comment on the effect of sweeteners as each of these can produce different metabolic reactions.
“So, the bottom line is that it is called artificial for a reason and the list of chemicals used to create it is long. Diabetes is growing at an unprecedented rate in the world. The real question is that is it better to give up sugar all together whether artificial or natural?” says Sahaya.
Still can’t give up sugar?
Nutritionist Iram Zaidi suggests switching to natural sweeteners such as stevia and honey. Though these are not completely healthy, these are definitely not as risky as pure sugar. “Natural sweeteners can help fight the sweet tooth. Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener and is considered safe for diabetics,” she adds. Another option is monk fruit, which is considered fairly safe.
While these are safer options, it is best to cut out sugar – whether artificial or natural, or limit its intake for good health.