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Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners in the Diet Part 3

Posted by Aisling Murray on



When sugar is removed from a food, an unintentional consequence is that the flavour is also removed and needs to be replaced, usually in the form of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic, calorie free substitutes derived from naturally occurring substances such as herbs and even sugar itself.  In the case of aspartame and acesulfame k they are up to 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Most low calorie foods contain sweeteners. Sweeteners are great if you are trying to cut down on sugar but studies suggest that over consumption can be harmful to our health as they are said to be carcinogenic, affect pregnancy and cause tumours, however reliable studies have yet to be published regarding this.


Benefits to sweeteners

  • They do not cause tooth decay or cavities.
  • Can help with weight control as they have virtually no calories; due to their high sweetness level only a small quantity is needed.
  • A good alternative for a person with diabetes as they do not raise blood sugar level like carbohydrates. It is still important to be careful what foods you eat containing sweeteners if you have diabetes as they can still be high in fats. (eg) foods labelled “low sugar” can be high in fats and vice versa


Negative side to artificial sweeteners

There is very little scientific evidence to indicate that sweeteners cause major adverse effects however I did find a few articles that suggest sweeteners may not be as good for us as initially thought. An Article published by the Mayo Clinic suggests sweeteners can actually cause weight gain; as l previously mentioned it was suggested they help with weight loss, so why the contradiction?

  • If over consumed sweeteners can overstimulate the sugar receptors in the brain, meaning that you can become tolerant to the strong sweet taste. Individuals who over consume sweeteners may find more subtle sweet foods like fruit and vegetables to be less appealing. This can lead to eating more artificially sweetened foods with a low nutritional value instead of nutritious wholesome foods.
  • Can cause you to over eat; we may think that eating healthy is consuming a “sugar free food” and thus find it acceptable to reward ourselves with an unhealthy food.
  • Consuming foods with sweeteners can activate the food reward pathway in the brain; however as sweeteners have no calories this leaves the body craving calories to provide energy to the cells. There is no way to deactivate the pathway as no calories arrive, as a result this can lead us to crave and over-consume foods with sweeteners or even high calories foods.
  • According to a 2010 article in Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, sweeteners such as aspartame are addictive as they alter your dopamine system and cause you to crave more of the sweetener.


Weigh up the pros and cons of sweeteners before consuming food which contain them. Artificial sweeteners are used as a sugar replacement but they can trick the body into thinking it will receive calories. When the calories do not come after eating a food containing a sweetener it leads to a carb craving. A study revealed that over consumption of sweeteners may promote insulin resistance, obesity, migraines, certain cancers and metabolic syndrome diseases like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol etc. 


In summary, artificial sweeteners cause no problems if consumed in moderation. It is only when over consumed that there may be issues


Aisling Murray has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and offers a one to one specialist nutrition service at Whelehans Pharmacy. Plans start from €10 per week. Call Whelehans at 04493 34591 for an appointment


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