3 Reasons to Think Twice Before Ditching Non-Sugar Sweeteners.

3 Reasons to Think Twice Before Ditching Non-Sugar Sweeteners.

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Close up photo of a woman putting sweetener into a cup of coffee.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a global guideline about non-sugar sweeteners in May 2023 that has left a sour taste in some mouths. 

WHO said evidence shows that sweeteners, like aspartame, Splenda, stevia, and others don’t carry long-term benefits when it comes to weight management or weight loss efforts or lowering the risk of chronic conditions related to being overweight or obese. Its advice is not to use them, in part because of potential long-term risks including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But here’s the catch—these guidelines about non-sugar sweeteners don’t apply to people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. In fact, cutting out non-sugar sweeteners could be problematic for many in America, where diabetes and obesity are more common than in other countries.

Let’s consider three reasons why artificial sweeteners aren’t all bad for many people in the U.S.

1. They help some people control diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic condition tied to sugar in which the body doesn’t make or process insulin as well as it should, which can lead to too much sugar in the bloodstream. This can cause serious health problems like kidney disease, heart disease, and vision loss. More than 11% of Americans know they have diabetes and 38% of adults have pre-diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Don’t take WHO’s advice on non-sugar sweeteners at face value if you have diabetes. Replacing artificial sweeteners with real sugar could cause major health problems. Non-sugar sweeteners don’t affect your blood sugar and may even help achieve glucose goals when used within reason. 

As a clinician, I’ve seen fabulous improvements in the blood sugar levels of patients who switched from sugary drinks to water and artificially sweetened beverages. We can have all the research under our belts, but during counseling sessions and real-life application, we need to be understanding of our patients and their ability to continue their favorite food and drinks with modifications. 

Related reading: Research Exploring Diabetes Education Via Chatbot Shows Promising Results for Managing Chronic Conditions.

2. They have fewer calories than sugar.

A no-calorie packet of sweetener sprinkled in coffee is better than a 150-calorie regular cola when you have the choice. What if you really want an ice-cold soda? Pick a diet cola. It’s a better calorie choice than a sugar-filled drink that can sabotage weight loss, zap energy, and leave your blood sugars sky high.

Remember, the serving size in lab studies is huge compared to the small daily serving an average person may consume. So, occasionally treat yourself to non-sugar-sweetened foods or drinks if your health allows but skip the sugary choice. Use processed ingredients like sugar and sugar substitutes lightly and save those calories for healthy whole foods. 

Related reading: Is Your Diet SAD? See How Going Mediterranean Supports Heart Health

3. They offer a chance to think about your health.

Everyone’s health is different. Before you ditch artificial sweeteners because of WHO’s generalized recommendation, remember that guidelines don’t know your medical history.

If you’ve had bariatric surgery or you manage diabetes, for example, your diet may look different than someone who doesn’t need to lose weight or control their weight through dietary changes. That’s why applying this WHO recommendation in the same way to every person in the real world doesn’t work well. It’s also why individualized lifestyle medicine and food choices are important.

This is a great chance to think—and talk—about your health. What do you usually eat and drink? Do artificial sweeteners drench your daily diet? Examine your overall well-being and weight goals. Then, talk with your primary care provider or a dietitian. They can help you understand the WHO recommendation alongside your specific health history, needs, and goals.

Related reading: Food as Medicine: How Healthy Eating Can Help Manage and Reverse Chronic Disease.

The bottom line: Non-sugar sweeteners can serve a purpose.

Don’t be quick to take non-sugar sweeteners off your menu completely without talking to your healthcare provider, especially if you have diabetes. Think about the big picture when it comes to healthy eating habits instead. Ideally, focus on water as your primary beverage but don’t let guilt override you when you enjoy a cold diet soda. 

Is it time to eat more quality proteins, fruits, and veggies and less junk food? If the answer is yes, we’re here to help.

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