Should a Person with Diabetes Use Artificial Sweeteners?

People with diabetes can use artificial sweeteners.
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Diabetes is a condition in which your body has trouble regulating blood sugar. There are several different types of diabetes which require different types of treatment regimens. Regardless of what type of diabetes someone has, eating a healthy diet and monitoring carbohydrate intake will be an important component in keeping blood sugars in good control.

Simple sugars, such as table sugar and syrup can add extra calories and increase carbohydrates quicker than other types of carbohydrates. Some people with diabetes choose to replace these types of sugars with artificial sweeteners for weight loss and to reduce blood sugars. This is a personal preference.

Artificial sweeteners are non-nutritive sweeteners. They don't affect blood sugar or insulin levels, so many people with diabetes find them helpful for satisfying their cravings for sweet foods. These sweeteners aren't ideal for everyone. Some people can use them to satisfy their cravings for sweets, and others believe it only makes their cravings for regular sugars worse.

Many foods labeled "diet" or "diabetic" contain artificial sweeteners, but that doesn't mean they're calorie-free—or even good for you. Check nutrition labels for calorie count, and look out for added fats and sodium too.

It's important not to replace one sweet with another. For example, if you swap sugary soda for diet soda, it doesn't mean you should eat cookies or candy bars instead. These types of food also contain ample amounts of sugar and unhealthy fat that can increase blood sugar and prevent weight loss.

The American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association both agree that sugar substitutes are not a magic bullet for weight loss, however, they agree that they can help people lower their calorie intake if they don't replace the saved calories with calories from other foods. It can work for some, but not for all.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Loss

Interestingly, some studies have shown that diet soda intake is associated with long-term increases in waist circumference, so clearly there's more to losing weight than simply swapping out your sodas. You need to reduce your total caloric intake from high-fat foods as well. It's fine to choose a diet soda, but it's also important to cut back on foods that provide excess fat.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

They're safe, at least in the amounts consumed in a normal diet. Artificial sweeteners have been around for years, and there's been plenty of testing as far as safety goes. Saccharine was thought to cause cancer, but it turned out to be a false alarm—it was something that only happens with male lab rats and not people.

Aspartame causes headaches in some people, and it can't be consumed by someone who has phenylketonuria. Some people simply don't like the idea that they're artificially created in a lab somewhere, so there are some more 'natural' alternatives. Non-nutritive sweeteners made from stevia (an herb), fruits (like monk fruit) and erythritol (a sugar alcohol) are also available in most grocery stores.

Living with diabetes will require some dietary and lifestyle changes, but as individuals this will look different for everyone. If you are considering using artificial sweeteners and are worried about it, speak to your health care provider, certified diabetes care and education specialist, or registered dietitian before you begin.

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  1. Fowler SP, Williams K, Hazuda HP. Diet soda intake is associated with long-term increases in waist circumference in a biethnic cohort of older adults: the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of AgingJ Am Geriatr Soc. 2015;63(4):708-715. doi:10.1111/jgs.13376

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