The Skinny on No-Calorie Sweeteners
Whether you are following a low-carb way of eating, you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes or you are just interested in a different way to sweeten your morning coffee, you've found the right post!
My goal with this post is not to tell you what no calorie sweetener you should choose, but instead, I'm providing the best scientific evidence I can find, all in the hopes that you will be able to make the right choice for YOU!
While this post doesn't cover ALL no calorie (or non nutritive) sweeteners on the market, it covers the most common and most easily accessible ones.
Stevia is a great choice for a no-calorie sweetener for many reasons including a lack of effects on blood sugar levels, no effect on insulin release and it's lack of effects on releasing hunger hormones. Stevia is the TOP choice for diabetes and pre-diabetes patients as it will not cause negative effects to glucose and insulin levels.
Stevia is a natural plant-based sweetener that has been around for many years, but has seen a sharp increase in use and media attention over the last few years. Stevia is exponentially more sweet than table sugar and should not be used in its pure form due to bitter aftertastes, although this form is not readily available to consumers. Be cautious of stevia that contains other sweeteners - avoid brands that add dextrose, maltodextrin or sucralose. The addition of ingredients like monk-fruit or erythritol are fine - you can read more about them below!
Erythritol and Monk-fruit
These two no-calorie sweeteners are often found together, most notably in the popular brand Lakanto. Both sweeteners are plant-based. Erythritol is a sugar-alcohol, meaning that it provides sweetness without calories, but also doesn't get digested in the body. This is a common ingredient found in sugar-free chocolates and commercial products and it can cause digestive upset and diarrhea when eaten in large amounts. It has a cooling effect in the mouth, so products sweetened with large amounts of erythritol can lead to a temporary cooling or peppermint-like effect.
Monk-fruit however, is also plant based, but is not often implicated in diarrhea or digestive upset within the general population. It's been used for 100s of years and it is a great source of sweetness without calories, effects on blood sugar or insulin release. Monk-fruit, erythritol or a mixture of the two are often more expensive than stevia but provide similar benefits and should be a TOP choice for diabetics, prediabetics and even low-carb or ketogenic patients!
Acesulfame potassium (Ace K) and Aspartame
Both of these sweeteners are associated with diet soda and as such, are always deemed a poor choice for consumption. In reality, both Ace K and aspartame are two of the most highly and rigorously studied sweeteners on the market today. Both sweeteners are calorie free and are lab-made or synthetic (unlike those discussed above). While much of the initial research shows that both ingredients are safe for human consumption, the risk and the unknown, is what kind of long term effects can occur with consistent intake of these artificial sweeteners.
Much of the available research shows that there is a lack of connection between cancer, neurological effects and the classic "aspartame" symptoms reported by individuals/ consumers online. The National Cancer Institute found no link between some types of cancer and aspartame intake in a review completed in 2006.
With this being said, because both of these sweeteners are artificial and made in a laboratory they should be a low choice on the sweeteners list. There are some suggestions that these sweeteners can cause issues with satiety, cause over eating and affect hormone/hunger signalling within the body. While I won't be discussing that in this post, I would recommend limiting the amount of aspartame and ace K you are taking in.
Finally, lets talk about sucralose, also known by its commercial trade name Splenda. Splenda is formed by the addition of chlorine to a sugar molecule. It is more sweet than sugar and is even sweeter than Ace K and aspartame. While sucralose has also been deemed safe to eat, it's important to note that again, consumption of this sweetener should be limited, due to the fact that it is artificial and other options are available. When it comes to the effects of sucralose on blood sugar and insulin, there is a significant reduction in the sensitivity to insulin and a change in the release of hormones. This can cause challenges for diabetics and pre-diabetics.