Do Artificial Sweeteners Belong On Your Diabetic Diet?

Where did artificial sweeteners come from? Why are they not good for your diabetic diet? Here is what you should know.

In the Beginning

Artificial sweeteners have been around since the discovery of saccharin in 1879. A scientist was working with coal tar, making benzoic sulfimide.

One evening after work he licked his hand and noticed a sweet taste. He named the substance saccharin and hurried to apply for patents.

Saccharin had a bumpy history in the 20th century. It was accused of causing bladder cancer and having no food value, but today it is considered safe.

You can find it in tiny pink packets, like SweetNLow, and diabetics have been using it for years.


Click here to go to the home page for A Diabetic Life.

Aspartame was developed as an artificial sweetener in 1965 and declared safe for use in 1974, but it has had a similarly bumpy ride because of possible side effects.

It does cause serious problems for people with a genetic disease called PKU (phenylketonuria).

In restaurants you find it in tiny blue packets, usually under the name NutraSweet. Aspartame is used in many diet sodas.


Then along came sucralose (Splenda is one famous brand). It is an artificial sweetener 600 times as sweet as sugar and twice as sweet as saccharin.

It is made by a chlorinating process from regular sugar. In 1976 it was patented, and in 1998 it was approved by the FDA. It comes in little yellow packets.

Sucralose, unlike aspartame, can be used in cooking. Aspartame breaks down under heat and has a short shelf life.

Sucralose does not exactly have zero calories. It is packaged with fillers that add a few calories, but as long as the fillers add less than 5 calories it can be called "zero-calorie" on the label.

The fillers are added to make it easy to use sucralose in cooking, because it can be measured out just like sugar.

But if you are cooking with this artificial sweetener, be aware that it does not dissolve into baked food like sugar does, so the texture won't feel right in some desserts.

That's why cooks like to use half sucralose and half sugar in baking. This halves the sugar calories but keeps the taste and texture.

There are lots of recipes available that are made to use sucralose, and some of them are amazing.

Sugar Alcohols

The artificial sweeteners that end with -ol are sugar alcohols. All of them are made from messing around with real sugar by altering it with chemicals or by fermentation.

The product tastes sweet but has fewer calories, and it has less bitter aftertaste than many other chemical artificial sweeteners.

The down side is that the sugar alcohols can cause GI upset (gas and diarrhea). They are used a lot in diabetic snacks, especially diabetic candy.

But sugar alcohols are not all the same. The worst of these sugar substitutes is maltilol. It is not a calorie-free food at 2-3 calories per gram (sugar has 4 calories per gram).

Maltilol and the Sugar Free Myth

Maltilol has a glycemic index of 52. Table sugar's is 60. That's not a huge difference, is it?

It has three-fourths the sweetness of sugar, three-fourths the calories and three-fourths the glycemic index value. So if you use enough to match the sweetness of sugar what do you have?

Something that is the same as sugar, but allows manufacturers to say "zero sugar" on the package.

Maltilol is a cheap sugar substitute that raises your blood sugar just like real sugar and has the same number of calories.

So it is a good idea to read labels on sugar-free foods and stay away from maltilol. It is not sugar free, and yet it causes the bloating and diarrhea of a sugar alcohol.

A much better choice would be erythritol. It is a sugar alcohol without the GI problems that is also very low glycemic.

Stevia, the Naturally Sweet Herb

The newest no-calorie sweetener is not completely artificial. It comes from the stevia plant, and it was first used in diet drinks and food in Japan in the 1970s.

It is now used in over 40% of their artificially sweetened products. But it was just approved in the U.S. as a sweetener in 2008.

Coca-Cola sells it as Truvia, and PepsiCo calls their product PureVia, but they're both basically the same sweetener. How much of the original herb is left after processing?

No one knows but the people who make it. It has the same bitter aftertaste as saccharin, though.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Making Us Fatter?

Studies conducted by researchers from the 1970s to today have been producing disturbing statistics. Instead of helping people lose weight, artificial sweeteners seem to be making people gain weight.

Researchers cannot explain it. Scientists who feed rats artificial sweeteners every day watch as the rats grow more and more obese. The additive seem to make them hungrier, and they eat more, not less.

Other scientists have followed the adult lives of young people who drank diet sodas in college. The diet soda drinkers were consistently more obese with a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes later on.

These results have been duplicated, so it's not a fluke. Everyone seems to know it's happening, but they don't agree on why or what recommendations to give us.

And the American Diabetic Association has not come out against the use of artificial sweeteners. Maybe we just hate to give up on them as part of our diabetic diet since they lower the calorie count of the sweet foods that we love.

Problems With Artificial Sweeteners

One problem with these sweeteners may be the sweetness - every one of them has hundreds to thousands of times the sweetness of sugar.

It is possible they give us a high sensitivity to sweetness that might make us crave it. You have seen how you can raise or lower your cravings.

Stop eating extra salt, and you start disliking salty foods. You "lose your taste" for them. So high sweet taste might increase our desire for sweet things.

Another problem might be that the sweet taste gives us an appetite. And when the calories aren't there, we are left feeling empty.

That empty feeling makes us feel hungry and leads to eating more. It's a bad thing for a diabetic, or for anybody who is trying to eat fewer calories.

One of the most disturbing problems with artificial sweeteners is that most, or maybe all of them contain chemicals that cause cancers. This is hard to pin down and prove but needs to be mentioned if you are thinking about using these chemicals every day.

There is also the problem of allergies. A lot of people are allergic to sulfa but do not know that a form of sulfa is in some artificial sweeteners. The most common symptoms people complain of are headaches and joint pain.

A Better Solution For Diabetics

Exercise to avoid diabetic Alzheimer disease.

The only natural way to lose weight has always been to burn more calories than you eat, and you do that by eating less and being more active. (You might try these weight loss secrets.)

Tricking your body with empty artificial sweeteners seems to be a bad idea in the long run. You don't have to do without sweets, though.

If you want them, keep them a small part, like the small end of a pyramid, and keep an eye on the calorie cost. The glycemic index can help you stay on track.

It may help you decide which carbohydrates you will eat every day. Give your body good things so cravings will not trip you up so easily.

Remember, this is a long journey. We have so many things ahead, and diabetes is not going to stop us. We eat right and exercise so we can be free to do those things.

That reminds me - I need to start the next book of my children's fantasy series. I hope you have found something creative also.

[Go back to the top]

You do not have to live without sweets because you are diabetic.

Return to a diabetic diet from artificial sweeteners.