WHAT ARE NON-NUTRITIVE SWEETENERS?
Non-nutritive sweeteners are high-intensity sweeteners that are typically no calorie or very low calorie compared with caloric sweeteners like sucrose or corn syrup. Some non-nutritive sweeteners are natural or plant derived while others are synthetic or artificial. Some examples of natural NNS include stevia, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, and monk fruit extract. Some examples of synthetic NNS include aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame, and sucralose. Depending on their chemical characteristics, some can be used as a tabletop stand-alone sweetener, while others can only be used in commercial food products.
HOW DO NNS WORK?
The exact mechanism by which NNS affect our health is not known but is proposed to be related to disruption in the normal gut bacteria, impacts on gut-brain signaling, and alteration in sweet preferences. There is no firm evidence as to whether NNS compared to other dietary intervention have substantial effects on health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and prevention of diabetes.
“WHY” IS THIS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Products sweetened with NNS are widely available on the market and are most common in chewing gum, diet beverages, desserts, yogurts, etc. Most of us are unaware of the presence of these sweeteners in beverages or processed foods we consume or in personal care and pharmaceutical products we use.
The consumption of NNS may have positive (reduced risk of dental caries) and negative (on weight, glucose levels, and bowel function) health effects.
If you are used to the sweet taste, consumption of NNS beverages may be a reasonable strategy to reduce the consumption of sugar-containing beverages. However, the goal should be to consume more water or other non-sweetened beverages instead.
Consumption of NNS should be minimized or avoided in individuals with bowel conditions, as well as those considering bariatric surgery, as it can predispose to dumping syndrome and diarrhea as well as increase bowel gas and bloating.
Even in individuals with no known bowel disorders, NNS could cause bloating, gassiness, and osmotic diarrhea. It should also be avoided for those with allergic reactions to the sweeteners, including specific metabolic disorders such as avoiding aspartame in phenylketonuria.
Consumption of aspartame has been shown to trigger migraine headaches in some individuals.