Although artificial sweeteners are often used in the food industry, their effects on our health remain a controversy. The FDA approved some artificial sweeteners for human consumption such as Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame potassium or Ace-K, Sucralose, Neotame, Advantame, and Steviol glycoside. However, studies have shown that there is a link between the cosumpsion of some artificial sweetners and negative effects on the overal health of humans.
Microbiota composition and function are modulated by diet. Our gut microbiota contains trillions of microorganisms. One third of our gut microbiota is common in most people, while two thirds are specific to each one of us. In addition to helping with digestion and fermentation of the food we eat, our gut microbiota helps the production of vitamins, plays an important role in the immune system, and performs a barrier effect to protect the body from microorganisms. It also influences our physiology, metabolism, and our enteric nervous system regulation.
Due to its role in many aspects of the body's function, disrupting our gut microbiota has been linked to a series of unwanted consequences such as autoimmune conditions, inflammation, gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, and metabolic conditions.
Several human and animal studies have shown that acesulfame potassium, saccharin and sucralose changes the intestinal microbiota. According to a research published in Nature, the consumption of these non-nutritive artificial sweeteners showed a relation with worse metabolic-syndrome-related clinical parameters; including central obesity, fasting blood glucose, A1C, and impaired glucose tolerance.
In animal models, saccharine has caused glucose intolerance in mice after several weeks of exposure. Over consumption of sucrose has been found to cause weight gain, development of diabetes, and have adverse effects on glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers by reducing their insulin sensitivity. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that over a six week period, the sucralose worsens gut inflammation in mice with Crohn's-like disease, but had no substantive effect on those without the condition.
What about stevia?
According to a review on artificial sweeteners published in the Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies, stevia has antioxidant effects and may have beneficial effects in blood pressure. To this day, the toxicology of stevioside (stevia) has been extensively studied, and related data indicated that it’s non-toxic, non mutagenic, non-carcinogenic and has no negative effects on weight or glucose tolerance.
While waiting for more research and strong evidence about the possible effects of some artificial sweeteners on consumer’s health, it is a good time to think about the benefits of moderating our sweet tooth and find natural sources of sugar. You can use fruits and spices to substitute sugar in your recipes by including dates, cinnamon, figs and bananas to your diet.
For healthy baking substitutions visit our blog.
This week's recipe comes from bluecure.org.
Chocolate cherry truffles
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup dried unsweetened cherries
¼ cup packed pitted dates (~4-5 medjool dates)
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 teaspoons of water, if needed
Extra cocoa powder
Shredded Coconut Flakes
1. Lightly pulse the walnuts in a food processor until a fine texture. Then add the dates, cherries, and cocoa powder. Continue to pulse until the mixture starts to stick. If the mixture is a little crumbly and doesn’t stick well, add in 1 teaspoon of water and pulse until it starts to stick.
2. With clean hands, roll the mixture into ~8 balls. Optional to roll the truffles in more cocoa powder or coconut flakes. Place in the fridge for 1-2 hours to let them firm up, then enjoy!
Have a great weekend!
Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN