Artificial Sweeteners Just Aren't The White Knights We Once Thought They were in the Age-Old Battle with Sugar

Sugar:  Reduce or replace?  Arm yourself with some info on artificial sweeteners before you decide to take the easy way out.

Let’s talk sugar; more particularly, its replacement with artificial sweeteners.  

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners. 

I'd much rather you reduce your sugar intake naturally (because sugar is not exactly a health food either).  But that can mean a long process of slowly adjusting your taste buds to less and less added sugar and that can be hard work!  Now I know that no one wants to work hard (enter artificial sweeteners), but reducing rather than replacing sugar will without a doubt pay off in the long run from a health perspective.

Because you see, artificial sweeteners just don’t seem to be the great weight-loss promoters everyone had hoped them to be.

The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially "added sugars" like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few.  Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store. It’s like an ambush!

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.

 A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will...

Types of artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar. 

Today we'll specifically discuss "artificial sweeteners," which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They're also known as "non-nutritive sweeteners," and include things like:

  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low in the U.S.),
  • Cyclamate (Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet’N Low (in Canada)),
  • Acesulfame potassium (only in packaged foods & beverages by the manufacturer), 
  • Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and 
  • Sucralose (Splenda). 

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don't. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.  However, I’m one to err on the side of caution and, again, come back to my reduce rather than replace philosophy as a sound approach.

I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who don't.  

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

While these results don't apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don't they? And they most definitely make one stop and think.  What are the costs?

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda? 
  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible? 
  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets? 
  • It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.


Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.  Personally, if I have to add some kind of sweetener to a recipe, I choose a natural sweetener, such as maple syrup or honey.  

However, I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn't overly sweet.  This way you're not only reducing your intake of added sugar, but you will not feel the need to replace it with artificial sweeteners.  On a side note, during cancer treatment, I completely eliminated sugars of all kinds and was completely blown away at how whole foods started to taste better and I could fully appreciate the flavour of something as simple as a tomato.

So try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.  There are so many ways to make the transition that don’t involve ingesting artificial chemicals.  Like I said, it’s hard work, but your body will most definitely thank you.

And don’t forget, today’s choices create tomorrow’s results!






Sweet Enough Matcha Latte

Serves 1

  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)

1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
2. Add matcha powder to cup.
3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
4. Add the rest of the milk to the cup (to make mine extra frothy, I whip it with the hand blender… yum!)

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.