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There Is No Sugar Free

Why we should be skeptical about the value of artificial sweeteners.

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The popular artificial sweetener sucralose may be calorie-free, but two recent studies say that what’s hiding in those little Splenda packets may not be so benign.

In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers in Mexico found that subjects who consumed 15% of the Acceptable Daily Intake of sucralose (set by the FDA at 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) for 2 weeks experienced a drop in insulin sensitivity compared with a control group that went sucralose-free. Similarly, a report in the journal Nutrition showed that people who consumed 200 mg of sucralose for a month (1 packet of Splenda has 12 mg of sucralose) also suffered a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

These results suggest that frequent sucralose use may affect blood sugar metabolism, potentially raising the risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes. Future studies will have to determine the mechanism behind this metabolic effect and examine whether smaller intakes—for example, drinking just a couple of diet sodas a day—would produce similar results. There is also a concern that people who rely on noncaloric sweeteners will simply reward themselves with additional food later in the day and will end up stoking, not taming, their sweet tooth. That’s why the sweeteners’ impact on body weight has been called into question, as research in the journal CMAJ pointed out in 2017.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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