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The Bad Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Diabetics

author image Cindy Hill
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.
The Bad Effects of Artificial Sweeteners on Diabetics
Artificially sweetened treats can lead to unhealthy eating habits for diabetics. Photo Credit MrButterworth/iStock/Getty Images

Diabetics need to monitor their food consumption carefully to ensure that sugary snacks and simple carbohydrates do not create dangerous swings in their blood glucose levels. Some types of artificial sweeteners can allow diabetics to enjoy an occasional sweet treat without concern for its impact on blood glucose levels, but other artificial sweeteners create unpredictable glucose results. Over-reliance on artificial sweeteners can have many bad health effects, including leading to unhealthy eating patterns.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are reduced-calorie sweeteners that contain about half the calories of table sugar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized food manufacturers to label foods containing sugar alcohols as sugar-free or no-sugar-added. This means people with diabetes cannot rely on the sugar-free label to ensure that the food product will not contain sugar. Read the food ingredients label carefully to ascertain if it contains erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, xylitol or other sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols will affect blood glucose, but the extent of the impact varies from product to product, according to the National Diabetes Association. Snacks containing sugar alcohols also frequently contain refined flour carbohydrates and are high in calories, and may not be a healthy addition to a diabetic diet, even with the sugar-free label.


Artificial sweeteners can interfere with the body's natural ability to judge when to stop eating, according to researchers at Purdue University. Evolution has taught humans that sweet foods are high in calories, so when the tongue tastes sweetness, the body gears up for an intake of high-calorie fuel. If the calories do not arrive along with the artificially sweetened product, then digestive mechanisms trigger the urge to seek those calories elsewhere. This leads to unhealthy overeating and weight gain that creates serious negative health effects for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.

Sweet Cravings

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are many times sweeter than ordinary table sugar, according to MayoClinic.com. These types of artificial sweeteners have virtually no calories and are counted as a "free food" on a diabetic substitution diet. Regularly eating artificially sweetened products can skew the taste buds to desire sweeter-tasting foods, leading the tongue to perceive of fresh fruit or honey-oat bread as bland and unappealing. Artificially sweetened goods are often nutrient-poor and potentially laden with fat and other unhealthful qualities. Diabetics and non-diabetics alike should moderate consumption of artificially sweetened foods and strive for a healthy diet of predominantly fruits, vegetables and whole grains, MayoClinic.com recommends.

Acceptable Daily Limits

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved five non-nutritive artificial sweeteners as human food additives in the United States, concerns over potential negative health effects of these synthetic sweeteners led the FDA to set acceptable daily limits for the consumption of each of these. Aspartame should be limited to 50 mg per day and should not be used in cooking. Saccharin and sucralose should be limited to a mere 5 mg per day; acesulfame K to no more than 15 mg per day; and neotame to no more than 18 mg per day. Diabetics who rely extensively on artificially sweetened beverages and food products may exceed these acceptable daily limits and consume artificial sweeteners at levels that have not been deemed safe.

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