While the popularity of zero-calorie sugars has soared in recent years, it’s vital to comprehend the potential health risks they can present. These artificially created sugars, designed to be zero calories and sweet, are often marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional sugar. However, their seemingly perfect profile can be deceiving, as they can have significant health implications. In this blog, we not only introduce a health-beneficial alternative that can enhance gut function and metabolism, offering a promising solution but also provide a comprehensive overview of the various types of zero-calorie sugars and their potential health effects, equipping you with the knowledge to make informed choices about your diet.

Common Types of Zero-Calorie Sugars

Aspartame

Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet and Equal, has become a popular artificial sweetener, found in a wide range of food products, from diet sodas to sugar-free candy bars and chewing gum. Aspartame is a chemical compound that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Its popularity has sparked extensive debates and thorough research about its safety, providing consumers with the information they need to make informed choices about their diet.

Sucralose

Sucralose is one of the most frequently used low-calorie sweeteners. It is used in various foods such as baked goods, drinks, and other calorie-sweetened items. It is obtained by chemically modifying sugar by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups with chlorine atoms to yield a compound much sweeter than sugar yet completely devoid of calories.

Stevia

Stevia is a sweetener derived from the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana. It is often promoted as a more natural alternative to artificial sweeteners and is used in all sorts of foods and drinks. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar and can be found as a granule, powder, or liquid.

Erythritol

Erythritol is a generic sugar alcohol beloved by low-carb and keto-eaters. It’s produced endogenously in some fruits and fermented foods such as soy sauce and wine. It is extremely mild, almost like diet lemonade, but it recreates the sensory properties of sucrose while being barely caloric. The taste is quite sweet, but, like all sugar alcohols, it tends to underwhelm unless combined with a higher-intensity sweetener.

Negative Effects on Health

Aspartame

Aspartame — the most controversial of the sweeteners — has been linked to a variety of possible health problems, including neurological effects such as headaches, dizziness, mood changes, and a link to certain cancers in some animals. However, these issues are still questioned and up for debate.

Sucralose

Consuming sucralose alters the composition of the gut microbiota, reducing its number. It can lead to digestive problems and a weaker immune system. Some studies suggest that sucralose interferes with insulin sensitivity, so it might cause the body to become less responsive to incoming blood sugar, which can lead to the development of diabetes over the long term.

Stevia

Stevia, the ‘natural’ sweetener, has also been expanded into the marketplace, with highly processed forms such as Reb-A often found in products, which might not retain beneficial compounds found in the whole plant. Some research has also suggested potential hormonal effects from stevia, influencing either reproductive health or metabolic function.

Erythritol

Erythritol is usually well-tolerated, although it may cause gastrointestinal upset for some people. Because some portions of ingested erythritol pass through our digestive tract unabsorbed, eating a lot can result in bloating, flatulence, and laxative effects. However, erythritol has been studied less than some of its sister sweeteners, and its effects on whole-body metabolism over the long term remain a question.

image of stevia a low-calorie sweetener

Psychological and Behavioral Impacts

In addition, consuming sweetness without calories has psychological and behavioral side effects that can cancel out the lofty goals for which they have been advocated. For example, there are indications that this creates a paradoxical ‘sweetness craving,’ in which the consumption might result in a desire for more sweet foods. And if those are the high-calorie foods and drinks that we know are bad for us then our attempts to cut calories by consuming zero-calorie sugars result in a key goal – cutting calories – actually being canceled out.

Furthermore, dietary zero-calorie sugars can also interfere with appetite control. We have learned to associate sweet taste with calories. When that expectation isn’t met, we can eat more to satiate those unexpected hunger pangs. In people trying to maintain or lose weight, that effect might cause weight gain.

Second, there’s the placebo effect: people think they’re making healthier choices when they consume zero-calorie sweeteners. Consequently, they may not enjoy all the health benefits they expect to reap and might even feel a bit too secure about other solid health actions.

A Better Alternative: Allulose

While there are plenty of zero-calorie sweeteners with caveats to counterbalance any potential health benefits, sugar’s relatively new allulose derivative is one of the few sweeteners with a positive health benefit. This sugar is naturally present in tiny amounts in figs, raisins, and a few other foods. It is absorbed by the body but not metabolized, meaning it is virtually calorie-free.

Benefits for Gut Health

Another benefit is that allulose is a prebiotic. This is a compound that helps promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Research has shown that allulose increases gut health, including maintaining healthy gut microbiota. Allulose is less likely to cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms (unlike other sugar alcohols) and is, therefore, also a gut-friendly option.

Metabolic Advantages

Relatedly, allulose has been reported to benefit metabolism. Human trials showing the benefits of allulose in blood sugar management indicate that this is a good sweetener for those with diabetes or otherwise struggling to keep blood sugar down. Moreover, allulose increases weight loss and decreases fat in animals.

image of a guy sitting on a toilet experiencing diarrhea

Conclusion

And even though zero-calorie sugars are a tantalizingly sweet deal – you get the taste of sweetness without getting the calories from your dessert – they’re not a free ride. Take aspartame, sucralose, stevia, and erythritol one by one, and each exhibits some problematic health effects, from digestive problems to altered gut health and metabolism of any carbohydrates you consume. Toss in the psychological and behavior-related effects, and you might think you would want to step lightly around these sweeteners in your diet.

Remember, allulose is a healthier sweetener because it supports gut health and metabolism. It does this by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and helping to regulate blood sugar. Being mindful of the sweeteners you use can help you satisfy your sweet tooth while maintaining good health.”

Let Celluvive help you understand the state of your gut. We will conduct a test to analyze your gut’s microbiome composition, and based on the results, we will provide personalized supplementation to improve your gut health. To get started, we offer a free health assessment and consultation. Simply click the link to begin.