Sweeteners have been a hot topic lately, mainly out of concern that they have detrimental effects on the gut microbiome.
The term ‘sweetener’ can refer to:
Non-nutritive sweeteners (natural or synthetic) that are intensely sweet and only consumed in low concentrations to meet a similar sweetness to sugar. Examples include saccharin (Sweet N Low), aspartame (Equal), stevia, and sucralose (Splenda).
Low-calorie sweeteners – sweet substances that have low digestibility. Examples include sugar alcohols.
Studies on lab animals show mixed findings regarding sweetener consumption and effects on gut microbiome population, fasting glucose concentrations and glucose tolerance, and inflammatory markers. Saccharin, sucralose, and stevia have been especially criticized for altering gut microbiota composition.
While some of the research on sweeteners can SEEM scary, keep in mind that the majority of this research is done on rats or in vitro (outside of the body), and this data can’t exactly be deduced to mean the same thing in humans. Additionally some studies use doses far beyond what is recommended or administer intravenously instead of by mouth. There are not many clinical studies on sweeteners in the body, so right now, there is still so much we don’t know.
In looking at the overall picture, having a moderate amount of sweeteners daily should not cause harm. These substances are tested and approved by the FDA with given Acceptable Daily Intake values. But remember that the dose makes the poison. Consistently going over the ADI of any substance could lead to adverse effects. Not to mention, if you constantly maintain a sweet taste in your mouth, you’re going to continue to seek a sweet taste in your mouth.
Gut health is extraordinarily complex, and there’s still so much that we don’t know about it (even living in different areas influences it)! So don’t get caught up on the small things. What you can do is consume a balanced diet with plenty of variety (and fiber!) and don’t over-consume sweeteners.
Check out this link for an up to date review on the research we currently have:
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CNSC