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September 20, 2013

Cutting your sugar intake is crucial in order to prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Unfortunate the average American consumes 76 pounds of added sugar per year. That's 23 teaspoons a day! The largest contributor to sugar intake? Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.

For many, the seemingly easy fix is to start using artificial sweeteners such sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, instead of sugar. Unfortunately, these artificial sweeteners have some pretty dark downsides:

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1. Artificial sweeteners may actually increase sugar cravings.

Because artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar, they tend to make you crave sugar more.

2. They're linked to diabetes.

In a study of more than 5,000 people, drinking one diet soda or more on a daily basis was associated with a 67% increased risk for diabetes. This is a very striking result! Switching to diet soda is often recommended to people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. This recommendation is ill-advised as it seems that diet soda may actually play a role in increasing diabetes risk.

3. They have been linked to cancer in animals.

In animal studies, artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame have been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

4. They can be harmful during pregnancy.

A study in women noted that artificial sweetener consumption during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for pre-term labor.

5. Artificial sweeteners, specifically sucralose, may change how your body responds to carbohydrates.

Your blood sugar and insulin levels may actually rise higher when you have carbohydrates with or after drinking a sucralose-sweetened beverage. One of the functions of insulin in your body is to trigger fat storage. If your insulin levels are higher, it is more likely that you will gain weight or it may be harder for you to lose weight.

So can you have a healthy relationship with sweets?

The bottom line is that artificial sweeteners may actually play a role in exacerbating the very conditions that they are meant to address. Instead of drinking diet soda, try sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice. Alternatively, add cucumber or lemon slices to your water for a refreshing and healthy beverage. For other desserts, use natural sweeteners or use fruit, which is naturally sweet, to make healthier desserts.

For more tips, check out my book Breaking the Sugar Habit.

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Margaret Wertheim, R.D.
Margaret Wertheim, R.D.

Margaret Wertheim, R.D., is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and is the author of Breaking the Sugar Habit: Practical Ways to Cut the Sugar, Lose the Weight, and Regain Your Health. Take this quiz to determine whether you need to curb your sugar intake. Margaret holds a Bachelors in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She counsels individuals and groups on how to adjust their diet to include whole and real foods to support optimum overall health. She also specializes in supporting women's health, fertility, and pregnancy through nutrition and lifestyle choices. Check our her blog for the latest nutrition information, healthy eating tips, and recipes, check out her Breaking the Sugar Habit online course, or sign-up to download your free Natural Sweetener Guide or Fertility and Pregnancy Resource Guide.