Monday, April 12, 2010

Sugar Substitutes: Good or Evil?

Last week I attended a webinar focusing on calorie free sweeteners such as those found in diet drinks and other low calorie foods. The information was very informative, so I would like to pass along a brief overview of what I learned.

There has been some hype in the media over the past few years about these artificial sweeteners causing a host of problems. The good news is that you can safely enjoy products containing these sweeteners. I will go over the myths, but first, I just want to remind everyone of the damage that excess sugar can cause to a body. Sure, it would be great if everyone in the world only drank water and milk. However, let’s face it, that is never going to happen. We like sweets and honestly, we were born with an affinity toward sweet tasting foods. By rationalizing this situation, given that we have never found any evidence that these artificial sweeteners are harmful, yet we know that an excess of sugar is, I think its safe to say that we are all better off choosing Crystal Light over regular lemonade.


1. Sugar substitutes make you hungrier. Research has shown this to be false. In fact, it was found that drinking one of the many beverages that contain sugar substitutes would actually provide the same satiety as eating or drinking a sugary drink. However, this is only due to filling the stomach, so the effect will subside when the stomach empties.

2. They trick the body into overeating. Again, research has disproved this! The only factor that may cause overeating is the feeling that one can eat other “treats” due to saving calories with a sugar substitute.

3. They increase sweet cravings. Again, humans are born with an affinity toward sweet foods; and having sweets, real sugar or substitutes, does not increase cravings.

4. Sugar substitutes add to the obesity epidemic. This is impossible because they have no caloric value.

5. They cause an insulin response leading to storage of fat. This has been studied and disproved.

6. They cause cancer. Over 200 studies have been done that refute this idea and no substantial evidence has been found to show otherwise.

The moral of the story is that sugar substitutes are safe in moderation. The upper safety limits of these products are so high that it would be almost impossible for a human to consume that much. Pregnant women and children can also safely enjoy products with sugar substitutes. This was definitely a very brief overview. Do you have questions? Please leave them in the comment section and I will answer to the best of my ability!

Information taken from the presentation by Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D.: Understanding Americans’ Approach to Weight Management: The Role of Low-Calorie Sweeteners


  1. If only they could make a "sugar-substituted" Coke that actually tasted like real Coke. I know many will disagree about C2 or Coke Zero, but it "just ain't the same."

  2. This was very helpful to me. Glad to have the myths cleared up. Thanks!

  3. Busy-Dad-E: I understand where you are coming from! Here is a tip...if you try a totally different product, you won't have the "regular version" to compare it to. For instance, if you're used to drinking coke, try a diet gingerale, diet pepsi, or diet root beer. Because you're not expecting the same "coke taste" it may be more palatable to you.
    Erin'sMom: Glad this was helpful!!

  4. Erin--This is mac from Get Fit Slowly. I just ran across your blog. This is actually the first entry I've read and found it very interesting. I was wondering if you could provide some more info about the webinar and/or some citations to the research that disproves the myths? I'm so interested in this topic because I've heard so many conflicting stories about it--especially the insulin spikes related to artificial sweeteners. Thanks for any info you can point me to. Mac

  5. fitmacdaddy: Hello and thank you for checking out my blog! Great questions...glad you asked!
    A study that looks at sugar substitutes and if they make you hungry:

    J.E. Blundell, P.J. Rogers and A.J. Hill. Uncoupling sweetness and calories: Methodological aspects of laboratory studies on
    appetite control. Appetite 11 (suppl 1). 54-66. 1988.


    Drewnowski, A., Massien, C., Louis-Silvestre, J., Fricker, J., Chapelot, D., Apfelbaum, M. Comparing the effects of aspartame and sucrose on motivational ratings, taste preferences, and energy intakes in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 59: 338-45, 1994.

    Impact of sugar substitutes vs other sugars on satiety....

    Monsivais, Perrigue, Drewnowski. Sugars and satiety – does the type of sweetener make a difference? AJCN 2007.

    Also, here is a link to the site where you can attend the webinars. I don't know that this particular one has been archived yet, but you may find this site helpful.

  6. Awesome Erin! Thanks for the great info. Now I have to go read :)

  7. Nice to see the references about artificial sweeteners.

    thanks for those!