Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Non-nutritive sweeteners and blood sugar

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I’m starting to think that the sharing of research results is like the telephone game. Researchers publish their articles in journals, slightly (or more so) misleading press releases are issued, news articles are published, these are then shared via social media. Frequently, by the time the information has filtered through these channels, you’re left with a much different message than the original study provided.

I recently read this article that stated “artificial sweeteners affect metabolism and insulin levels”. Now, if you go back to the original journal article, you’ll see that this is quite misleading. The authors found that sucralose (not all non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners) had an impact on blood sugar levels and blood insulin levels following a glucose challenge.

Seventeen participants who were not regular consumers of non-nutritive beverages, did not have diabetes, and were classified as obese were given a glucose tolerance test following the consumption of water on one occasion and sucralose sweetened water on another. Increased levels of blood sugar and insulin were observed following the glucose challenge given after the sucralose consumption. However, the blood glucose levels were not all that different (4.2 + 0.2 and 4.8 + 0.3 mmol/L). The insulin levels were about 20% higher following the ingestion of sucralose. 

Other things that I would like to note about this study: there were only 17 participants. This is quite a small sample size (although slightly better than the ones Dr Oz was basing his recommendation to consume vinegar to prevent diabetes) which means that we can’t be certain that the results seen were all that meaningful. There is power in numbers and to be sure that a treatment is truly having the effect you’re observing you need lots of participants. In addition, these participants were not regular consumers of sucralose. Perhaps a different result would have been obtained had they tested individuals who regularly consume sucralose sweetened products. Finally, the study only included obese individuals (the average BMI was 42.3). Would the results be the same for healthy or overweight individuals? What would the results be had tests been done on participants who had type 2 diabetes?

Yes, it’s interesting that sucralose may have an effect on blood sugar but this study is not definitive and it’s definitely not reasonable to extrapolate the results to include all non-nutritive sweeteners.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

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