Artificial sweeteners – friend or foe for heart health?

We all know that excess sugar can lead to health problems such as obesity and tooth decay. That’s why in recent years products have appeared on the market that replace added sugar with artificial sweeteners.

And yet, some studies warn that artificial sweeteners could also pose a danger to your health. Read below to find out what the concerns are, and what we can do to avoid the possible negative effects of this ingredient.

Why is it good to avoid sugar?

Excessive sugar consumption, although often considered a harmless indulgence, has serious and varied health consequences, from increased obesity and tooth decay to more serious conditions such as insulin resistance, which can develop into type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. Products with a lot of added sugar usually have a high calorie intake without having a high nutritional value.

Studies show that diets high in added sugar can also increase the risk of heart disease, increasing blood pressure and inflammation, as well as promoting the accumulation of visceral fat, which is dangerous for heart health. These risks underline the importance of limiting sugar consumption to protect long-term health.

What are artificial sweeteners?

“Natural” alternatives to added sugar, such as honey syrups and nectars, are often considered healthier options, but they are still sugar in liquid form and so will contribute to the caloric intake of the products.

In order to enjoy sweet products without the calories from sugar, many people prefer the alternative of artificial sweeteners. These include:

  • Sorbitol
  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia
  • Xylitol

They are added to many foods, either as such or in combination with sugars. Artificial sweeteners are also available in stores in granular or liquid form to add to our cooking, baking and beverages.

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

Below, we list in detail the advantages and disadvantages of using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

Benefits of artificial sweeteners

It is well known that added sugars have a harmful effect on our health. Too much sugar consumption can lead to overweight, which can affect heart health.

The use of artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar in many foods and drinks brings with it several benefits. Firstly, they are definitely better for our teeth. Moreover, artificial sweeteners are a common food in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes, so they can enjoy the sweet taste without affecting their blood glucose levels.

Artificial sweeteners can also have negative health effects

Yet a recent study shows that artificial sweeteners also pose potential health risks. This study included about 100,000 people in France, with an average age of 42. Every six months, they were asked to record everything they ate and drank over a three-day period. Afterwards, over a period of 9 years, they were monitored for cardiovascular health.

Study results

The results of the study show that the regular presence of artificial sweeteners (either already in manufactured foods or added to the meal) was linked to a 9% increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart problems and strokes). The largest increase was in stroke risk), where sweeteners were linked to an 18% increase in risk.

The study also reports that an artificial sweetener, aspartame, was more strongly linked to an increased risk of stroke, while sucralose and acesulfame potassium were more strongly linked to coronary heart disease.

However, this type of study does not give details about the causes of this effect. Researchers have suggested that artificially sweetened beverages may be linked to metabolic syndrome (a collection of problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and poorer blood sugar control), which can lead to heart and circulatory disease as well as diabetes. Other studies have suggested that sweeteners may affect the way our bodies control blood sugar levels.

At present, more studies on this topic are needed in order to draw clear conclusions about the effects of artificial sweeteners on our hearts and the causes of these effects.

Conclusion

Let’s be honest – we all love a sweet snack now and then. The most important thing to remember when consuming sweet products, whether they contain natural or artificial sweeteners, is not to over-consume.

It’s true that artificial sweeteners might help you reduce your sugar intake, for example in tea or carbonated drinks. Ultimately, however, you need to reduce the overall sweetness of your diet if you want to adjust your tastes in the long run and eliminate the risks of cardiovascular disease or other negative health effects.

Disclaimer

This article is strictly informative and is not a substitute for the consultation and diagnosis provided by your medical specialist. If you experience unpleasant symptoms, please consult a qualified doctor as soon as possible. Only a professional is able to assess your health and provide appropriate recommendations.

Bibliography

Artificial sweeteners and risk of cardiovascular diseases: results from the prospective NutriNet-Santé cohort | The BMJ

Associations between types and sources of dietary carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease risk: a prospective cohort study of UK Biobank participants | BMC Medicine

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