Artificial Sweeteners Affect Blood Sugar Levels

| July 25, 2013

Millions of people pop artificial sweeteners into their tea or coffee every day, believing that by substituting them for sugar they are taking a positive step towards weight control and good health. But evidence is gradually mounting that artificial sweeteners may not be such a healthy option.

In The Real Diabetes Truth on 12 September 2012, I warned of the possible health risks from using aspartame (Nutra Sweet). Aspartame could actually contribute to insulin resistance, as well as being linked with brain and nerve damage and increased risks of multiple sclerosis, dementia, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Now another popular sweetener, sucralose (which is marketed as Splenda), has come under suspicion.

Up until now, the official line from Diabetes UK and other authorities has been that artificial sweeteners are safe for people with diabetes to use because they contain no carbohydrates, so have no affect on your blood sugar levels. That advice may have to change in the light of a new study from Washington University School of Medicine in the USA, which has revealed that sucralose could change the way your body handles sugar1.

This small study involved 17 severely obese people who did not have diabetes and did not use artificial sweeteners regularly. They were given either plain water or water with sucralose added, then, 10 minutes later, a large dose of glucose. Their blood sugar and insulin levels were measured before the test and then at regular intervals. Each participant was tested on two separate occasions, once with water and once with the sucralose drink.

The results showed that both blood sugar and insulin levels peaked around 20 per cent higher when sucralose was ingested before the glucose. So why should sucralose have this effect, when it contains virtually no calories or carbohydrates?

Well, recent animal studies have discovered that our tongues are not the only places in our bodies that have sweetness receptors. Almost identical ‘taste buds’ have been found in the gastrointestinal tract and the pancreas, where they detect sweet foods and drinks2. When receptors in the gut are activated by artificial sweeteners, the absorption of glucose from foods increases. And when those in the pancreas detect sweetness, they trigger an increased release of insulin.

All of this means that the advice handed out to overweight people to cut down on sugar by using artificial sweeteners could have been wrong. Sweeteners like Splenda could actually be adding to their problems by messing with their natural blood sugar control mechanisms. The best advice now seems to be to avoid both sugar and artificial sweeteners as far as possible.

How to train your tongue to like less sweet foods

If you are unsure that you will be able to give up the sweet things in life, believe me, you don’t actually need sugar or sweeteners as much as you think you do. You can retrain the sensors on your tongue to be more sensitive, so that you get just as much enjoyment from less sweet foods. Here’s how to do it:

• Start by cutting out one sweet food from your diet each week. For example, don’t eat dessert after dinner.

• Replace sweet snacks with low-carb ones, such as cheese and nuts, or ‘tart’ fruits such as berries.

• Slowly reduce the sugar or sweetener you add to tea, coffee or cereal. Over time, you will lose your need for that sweet taste.

• Follow a low glycaemic load diet, as recommended in Diabetes Defeated: The 14 Day Diet Plan, for several weeks. After this, you will find that sweet foods taste much sweeter and you won’t want them as much.

• Retraining your taste buds to be more sensitive to sugar will take around six to eight weeks. At first it may seem difficult, but the longer you can avoid sugar and sweeteners, the less intense your desire to eat sweet foods will become.

Reducing your intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners will help you to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels under control and will help to prevent insulin resistance. While insulin resistance is usually linked with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and the complications that often accompany it, new research has found that insulin resistance can also be a cause of weak bones and fractures. That will be the subject of my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Pepino MY, Tiemann CD, Patterson BW, Wice BM, Klein S. Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load. Diabetes Care. 2013 Apr 30. (Online ahead of print).

2. Kojima I, Nakagawa Y. The role of the sweet taste receptor in enteroendocrine cells and pancreatic ß-Cells. Diabetes Metab J. 2011; 35(5):451-457.

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Comments (2)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. I Agree that NutraSweet, a chemical sweetener is very bad, but Splenda, Sucrolose and perhaps Palatinose are not. I have been using Splenda since the day it came out and have no problems with it. I am normal weight and have had type two diabetes for 25 years. I take 18 units of Lantus and nothing else. No drugs. I have no
    diabetic complications either.

    I have been doing my own research with my own body all 25 years. It isn’t Splenda that is the problem, it is what they put Splenda in. If the test subjects are obese like you said, they are eating a lot more carbs than sugar. The body doesn’t know the difference between flour and sugar. For a diabetic it is all sugar. I am now experimenting with a very low carb and very high fat diet. It is working. I use Splenda in some of my very high fat foods such as cheese cake
    and chocolate. I have lots of energy, feel great and do not gain weight on this high fat diet. My body is turning the fat I eat into all the glucose I need.

  2. Mrs R mamudu says:

    Thanks for doing this very sensitive job that makes every one afected feel like they’re seving life sentence the moment the Dr says (you have Diabetes)