Most of us love a sweet treat, but we try to steer clear of sugar.
We believe that sugar substitutes are a safe way to get that sweet fix, but research continues to find reasons we should avoid them.
Recent studies find that sugar substitutes can greatly increase risks of heart attack or stroke and damage DNA.
Read on for the bitter discoveries.
Erythritol Elevates Risks of Heart Attack and Stroke
Erythritol is in thousands of foods, drinks, snacks, and sugar substitute products, often without clear labeling. It’s found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and is made in our cells, but as a sweetener is “1,000-fold greater than levels found in natural foods,” researchers say. Since it’s approved by the FDA as a sugar alcohol, it doesn’t have to be listed on Nutrition Facts labels.
Yet research continues to reveal concerns about long-term use of erythritol, the latest related to heart attack and stroke. Here’s what a team at Cleveland Clinic found in their study.
- Elevated blood levels of erythritol and related artificial sweeteners are linked to cardiac and stroke risk.
- People with the highest erythritol levels in the blood were about 2x as likely to have cardiovascular events in the following three years than people with the lowest levels.
- Increased blood erythritol levels speeds up blood clot formation and artery blockage in mice.
- People who had a drink sweetened with erythritol had blood erythritol levels increase 1,000-fold – and they remained “substantially elevated” for several days.
- For at least 2 days, the erythritol levels were high enough to trigger changes in platelet function.
Their study results suggest that erythritol can increase blood clot formation which could greatly increase risks of heart attack and stroke. Researchers insist that more studies be done on the health risks of erythritol and its possible contribution to heart disease.
Despite this study, however, erythritol is still deemed safe and used in thousands of products including sweeteners Truvia® and Splenda®. It’s also in Vitamin Water Zero®, Bai drinks, ice cream, gum, hard candy, yogurt, diet drinks, flavored water, chocolate, protein bars, and fruit spreads. It’s a long list. Even if you’re diligent about reading labels, you may not know if erythritol is one of the “sugar alcohols” listed!
Chemical Found in Sucralose Damages DNA
Similar to erythritol but even more common, sucralose sweetens over 4,500 products ranging from energy drinks to salad dressings. You might know it as Splenda, the little yellow packets on many restaurant tables.
Another new study finds that sucralose has trace amounts of sucralose-6-acetate and our bodies make sucralose-6-acetate when we eat sucralose. This chemical compound is “genotoxic,” meaning it damages DNA, says the study. Concerns highlighted in the study include:
- The amount of sucralose in one drink exceeds the European Food Safety Authority’s threshold of toxicological concern.
- Chemicals in this sweetener damage the gut lining making it more permeable and leakier.
- Gut cells exposed to sucralose-6-acetate had increased activity in genes related to oxidative stress, inflammation, and carcinogenicity.
The study’s authors say the FDA needs to revisit the safety and regulatory status of sucralose because the evidence that it’s unsafe is escalating. But it may be awhile before we see this happen even though alarming studies about no-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners are mounting.
For example, in 2017, research suggested that these substitutes may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, erythritol and other sugar substitutes are often the cause of digestive issues like gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, and cramping as well as headaches. People with stomach issues and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are advised to avoid them.
Despite these health concerns, sugar substitutes will likely continue to sweeten thousands of products. That means you decide whether they’re worth possible health risks and side effects.
How do you get sweetness without health risks?
- Enjoy sweet fruits, vegetables, and whole grain carbohydrates.
- Sweeten foods with fruit.
- Enjoy natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, and maple syrup which contain antioxidants and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.
Talk to your medical provider if you’re concerned about the health risks of artificial sweeteners, especially if you have health issues, leaky gut, or other risk factors for CVD or diabetes.
If you want to quit eating alternative sweeteners but struggle with sugar addiction, try these steps to break the sugar habit for good