Nutrition Myths: Non-Nutritive Sweeteners are Healthy

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Is sugar-free healthier for you? Come uncover the sweet secrets of non-nutritive sweeteners.


You want to reduce your intake of refined sugar because you know it’s harmful for you. But, before you reach for a sugar-free or diet product, you need to read this. Don’t worry! There is a bit of sweet news for you – some natural sweeteners are healthy for you.

What are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners?

Non-nutritive sweeteners include artificial sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners, and natural sugar substitutes, making the term a bit confusing. These non-nutritive sweeteners are sweet-tasting alternatives to sugar that do contain little to no carbohydrates, thus they don’t raise your blood sugar levels.

The Worst (to Best) Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

Using artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, acesulfame-potassium) daily for long periods is linked with a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, and death, warn experts.

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, SugarTwin)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Acesulfame-Potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet)
  • Sugar alcohols (Xylitol, Sorbitol, Lactitol, Mannitol, Erythritol, Maltitol)
  • Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit extract (Monk Fruit)
  • Stevia rebaudiana (Stevia)

Are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Healthy?

In a 2018 statement, The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association caution against the intake of non-nutritive sweeteners and low-calorie sweeteners as there is a potential increased risk in adults of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular events with diet beverage intake.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Eat Non-Nutritive Sweeteners, According to Science

Non-nutritive sweeteners aren’t healthy for your gut, says research. Consuming non-nutritive sweeteners prompts changes in the gut microbiome – in a negative way. Dysbiosis in the gut occurs, which is linked to many health concerns, including increased risk of anxiety and increased inflammation. Plus, eating non-nutritive sweeteners promotes glucose intolerance in healthy individuals which may result in the development of type 2 diabetes.

  • Higher risk of stroke & cardiovascular problems
  • Higher risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Disrupts gut health
  • Increased risk of anxiety
  • Increases inflammation
  • Higher risk of death

What is the Healthiest Sweetener for Kids?

With more parents looking for lower-sugar convenience foods to feed their kids, more non-nutritive sweeteners are making their way into children – and parents are unaware of it, cautions researchers. A healthy solution is to find alternatives to packaged convenience foods that contain sweeteners for quick, natural fuel for kids. Consider apples, grapes, bananas, seeds, and nuts.


What You Should Know About Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are sometimes used as a low-calorie sweetener, but can contain some carbohydrates. Some sugar alcohols are as sweet as sugar, while others are as little as 15% as sweet – as such, read labels carefully as the amount in a product can vary. Caution to eating high quantities of sugar alcohols: in some people, it can cause digestive distress including loose stools or diarrhea.


What is Monk Fruit Extract?

The newest non-nutritive sweetener in Canada is a small, melon-like, green gourd called monk fruit. Monk fruit extract is very sweet: about 150 times sweeter than sugar. Yet, studies show monk fruit doesn’t impact blood sugar levels, making it an appealing non-nutritive sweetener. Little research is available, with preliminary results suggesting potential antioxidant benefits. As for the safety of long-term monk fruit, it has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. As for monk fruit’s use as a non-nutritive sweetener in food products, scientists suggested more research is needed. Of note, read your monk fruit labels as many are sold as blends that include other ingredients.


Is Stevia Safe to Use?

Recognized as safe by the European Food Safety Authority, stevia is a sweet-tasting natural alternative that doesn’t cause blood sugar levels to rise. Research suggests stevia has other health effects, including:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Stabilizes atherosclerotic plaque
  • Liver and kidney support

However, to get these benefits, the gut’s microbes have to break down the stevia glycosides into steviol. More research is needed as to how much stevia and how often it can be used to creates optimal health results. Stay tuned for more information to come from scientists.


What are the Healthiest Non-Nutritive Sweeteners?

You can lower your sugar intake and still enjoy something sweet thanks to some natural sweeteners, including stevia and monk fruit. Each with a slight aftertaste, you may find one preferable to your palate over another.


Why You Should Eat Less Sugar

The more sugar you eat the more likely you are to struggle with emotions (anxiety, fear, and depression), cravings, and addiction shows research. Plus, diets high in added sugar (which intakes more than 20 percent of energy) are linked to a higher risk of heart disease. But, wait! Evidence suggests you should eat treats: eating less than 2 treats a week was linked with the highest risks of cardiovascular events. As with most food-related questions, moderation is the best answer.


How to Have Healthier Blood Sugar Levels

Try a holistic approach to this nutrition dilemma. Soothe your sweet tooth more often with naturally sweet whole foods, such as grapes, berries, and sweet potatoes, than with convenient, packaged foods or beverages. Try it for a month: studies show in less than 4 weeks of eating less sugar, you’re likely to find you crave it less.




Low-calorie sweetened beverages and cardiometabolic health: a science advisory from the American Heart Association.  Circulation. 2018 Aug 28;138(9):e126-40.

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Non-nutritive sweeteners and their implications on the development of metabolic syndrome. Nutrients 2019 Mar; 11(3):644.

Non-nutritive sweeteners and their associations with obesity and type 2 diabetes. J Obes Metab Syndr 2020 Jun 30; 29(2): 114-123.

Effects of asparatame-, monk fruit-, stevia- and sucrose-sweetened beverages on postprandial glucose, insulin and energy intake. Int J Obesity 2016 Dec 13; 41: 450-457.

Safety of use of monk fruit extract as a food additive in different food categories. EFSA J 2019 Dec; 17(12): e05921.

The effects of stevia consumption on gut bacteria: friend or foe? Microorganisms 2022 Apr; 10(4): 744.

Associations between added sugar intake and risk of four different cardiovascular diseases in Swedish population-based prospective cohort study. Front Nutr 2020 Dec; 7.

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