Many of us consume non-nutritive sweeteners (eg, stevia, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin, monk fruit) added to food or beverages, intentionally or unintentionally, on a daily basis. Because most of these pass through the body unchanged, scientists have believed that they did not have an effect.
Research, however, is uncovering new evidence about these substances. While some studies show that non-nutritive sweeteners are an effective sugar substitute for some individuals, findings also show associations between non-nutritive sweetener use and weight gain, increased adiposity, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. Further, preliminary research, most of which has been conducted in animals, shows that non-nutritive sweeteners may interact with the organisms living in the intestinal tract (also called the gut microbiome).
Some theories about the possible interaction between the gut microbiome and non-nutritive sweeteners are yet to be substantiated. The use of the word ‘interaction’ is intentional because all interactions are not necessarily negative or meaningful. They include that bacteria may:
- be able use the non-nutritive sweetener as an energy source, since some of these have negligible energy for humans, but small amounts of energy that help certain bacteria.
- not be killed, but not be able to reproduce, and
- find the non-nutritive sweetener toxic.
Further research will have to be conducted to understand the potential interactions between the microbiome and non-nutritive sweeteners exist, the mechanisms or conditions for interactions, and then if interactions are harmful, helpful, or neutral to the humans that consume them. After that, then recommendations regarding ingestion of non-nutritive sweeteners can be made.
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN
If you are interested in changing or eliminating your non-nutritive sweetener intake, contact me [email protected]
Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health photo of gut bacteria