Are artificial sweeteners worse for your health than sugar?

Mar 15, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: Mar 16, 2023, 9:13 am
Chocolate mousse Keto Cakes (Photo courtesy of Keto Cakes)
(Photo courtesy of Keto Cakes)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah doctor joins Dave & Dujanovic to discuss artificial sweeteners and their effects on health.

A sugar replacement called erythritol – used to add bulk or sweeten stevia, monk fruit and keto reduced-sugar products – has been linked to blood clotting, stroke, heart attack and death, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine and reported by CNN.

People with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke if they had the highest levels of erythritol in their blood, according to the study.

The doctor is in

Richard Ferguson is the founder of Black Physicians of Utah and chief medical officer with Health Choice Utah. He talks about the study and its implications with Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega.

Ferguson said the study assessed more than 1,000 patients who were already at risk for cardiovascular disease and had been diagnosed with arteriosclerosis, which is marked by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.

He said the patients consumed about 30 grams of erythritol per day.

“It increased their likelihood of having a stroke or heart attack,” he said. “When it comes to the general population, I would probably make sure that you stay at maybe half the amount . . . So try to avoid getting to the 30 grams of erythritol that was noted in the study.”

Ferguson said if you are diabetic, and are taking erythritol, stay under 30 grams per day.

“If you’re someone that is not a diabetic and doesn’t have an established heart disease, I would say you don’t have to do anything drastic because this applies to a lot of people with keto diets,” he said.

Sugar vs. artificial sweetener

“What does my body do when I eat real sugar, like just regular sugar, and how does it react when it gets the artificial sugar? Is it similar?” Dave asked.

“Many doctors will encourage you to have natural sugar, so get something from a fruit as opposed to actually adding granulated sucrose or sugar to your meal or baking goods,” Ferguson said. 

He added as soon as sugar touches your tongue, insulin is released.

“Artificial sweeteners are often 200 to 300 times sweeter than natural sugar. So that’s why you often need less of it. But it still stimulates that response in your body to release insulin, even though it’s not sugar . . . but if you do enough of it, you actually can start to develop a little bit of insulin resistance, and so your insulin is not as effective and tends to have higher blood-sugar levels, even with artificial sweeteners,” Ferguson said. 

“What about natural sweeteners such as stevia?” Debbie asked.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol derived from corn via fermentation, whereas stevia extract comes from stevia leaves and has a very concentrated sweetness from the stevia plant. Erythritol is 70% as sweet as sugar. Stevia is 100 to 300 times as sweet as sugar, according to Wholesome Yum.

“I still think they are great to use. This is why: It doesn’t cause insulin release or increase your insulin levels within your body,” Ferguson said.

Related reading:

Cleveland Clinic Study Finds Common Artificial Sweetener Linked to Higher Rates of Heart Attack and Stroke

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Are artificial sweeteners worse for your health than sugar?