Zero-Calorie Sweeteners Might Not Be Better For You Than Sugar, Study Says

Making the switch from regular to diet soda might seem like a healthful choice — but according to a new study to be presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting, zero-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and Ace-K might actually be worse. Or they might be better. Or they might be just as bad.

The bottom line? Right now, researchers just don't know.

What they did manage to figure out was that artificial sweeteners like the kind found in Splenda and diet soda could have a surprisingly large effect on your metabolism and the lining of your blood vessels. Together, the observed effects of artificial sweeteners on test subjects — all of which were rats and cell cultures, not humans — resulted in a concerning number of risk factors for diabetes and metabolic disorders.

The rats and cell cultures involved in the study were placed in groups and fed multiple types of diets. Some were given large amounts of sugar (glucose, fructose, etc.) while others were given comparable amounts of artificial sweeteners (aspartame and Ace-K). After three weeks, the researchers observed differences in the concentrations of biochemicals, fats, and amino acids in blood samples.

"We observed that in moderation, your body has the machinery to handle sugar; it is when the system is overloaded over a long period of time that this machinery breaks down," lead researcher Dr. Brian R. Hoffmann of the Medical College of Wisconsin said in a public release. "We also observed that replacing these sugars with non-caloric artificial sweeteners leads to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism."

The team noted that while the study provides further insight on whether we should be utilizing these sugar replacements in our diets, the results do not definitively determine which option is better for your health.

"It is not as simple as 'stop using artificial sweeteners' being the key to solving overall health outcomes," Hoffmann insisted. "If you chronically consume these foreign substances (as with sugar) the risk of negative health outcomes increases."

So if you love snacking on something sweet, what's your safest option?

"Although more study is warranted, this is not the first time the negative effects of artificial sweeteners have been seen in studies," warns Jackie Arnett Elnahar, RD, Esq. "I recommend natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup."

These are both easy to swap as a healthy way to sweeten your coffee or as a nutritious baking substitute.

"Raw honey and maple syrup both offer antioxidants, immune system benefits, minerals and phytonutrients," Elnahar told us.

If you're looking for more motivation to tone down your artificial sweetener intake, you might be interested to read these 18 other disturbing effects of drinking diet soda.