Artificial sweeteners: yay or nay?

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By The Gut Health Doctor Team

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

There’s much hype around reducing sugar consumption for our general and metabolic health, but what about their replacements? Consumption of artificial sweeteners has increased dramatically in recent years, but should we be in favour of, or avoiding these?!

What are they and where are they found?

Sweeteners aim to flavour our foods to provide the same taste as sugar but without the calories. They are hundreds of thousands of times sweeter than table sugar & so we need much smaller quantities to satisfy our taste buds.

Sweeteners are found within a variety of products, from squashes, desserts and ready meals, to toothpastes, chewing gums and even some vitamin supplements.

How do sweeteners affect the gut?

Many sweeteners are only partially absorbed, therefore entering our large intestine in the same way that fibres do, meaning they can affect our microbiota. Some studies suggest they may have a negative impact on our microbiome which could lead to poorer immune, metabolic and mental health.

How about sweeteners for gut symptoms?

Not all sweeteners are the same, especially if you are experiencing gut symptoms. Try avoiding those ending in -ol (e.g. sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol) which we know reach the lower gut and can be fermented by bacteria as well as having an osmotic effect that draws water into the bowel and can increase loose stools.

Take home

It’s a nay from us. Although evidence is incomplete, we know sweeteners can increase gastrointestinal symptoms and negatively impact our microbiome. Our advice? Table sugar in small levels is preferable!


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