Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007.

Since foods and drinks with artificial sweeteners contain no sugar and little or no calories, they are often touted as a good alternative for people with diabetes. And that’s largely true: these products can be helpful when trying to lose weight and control blood glucose—if you pay attention to the amount you consume and how it affects your eating and drinking habits.

Artificial sweeteners have been used in various forms to sweeten our foods and beverages, and they have been studied for years. And all have been found to be safe for consumption in moderation.

As more research is done with artificial sweeteners, however, some undesirable effects are starting to be uncovered. Studies are showing that artificial sweeteners can cause addiction to the pleasant sensation of sweetness, and they may negatively affect our metabolism and the way our bodies regulate food intake.

Pros and cons of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are made from compounds that are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, and therefore only a small amount is necessary to sweeten a drink or bowl of ice cream. Sugar substitutes can also be a helpful tool for people with diabetes to use in baking and preparing desserts. Less real sugar in a cookie, cake, or pie means less of a spike in blood sugar, leading to easier blood glucose management.

However, they can also create a false confidence in artificially-sweetened, packaged foods. Just because a food such as ice cream or a drink like fruit punch is flavored with artificial sweetener doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice. Foods that contain sugar substitutes are often merely empty calories that are easy to fill up on, leaving less room for healthier foods such as fruits and veggies. And while artificially-sweetened soda doesn’t have calories, it can fill you up on carbonation, again leaving less room for more nutritious food during a meal or snack.

Research has also indicated some potentially troubling side effects tied to artificial sweeteners. It appears as diet soda consumption continues to increase, the weight and incidence of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. population is also increasing. It doesn’t seem logical, does it? But consider the following points, which are the focus of current research:

  • Are we justifying the consumption of higher-calorie foods because we are drinking diet soda that contains no calories?
  • Or are we craving more sweet, high-calorie foods because our bodies are confused by the artificial sweeteners we are eating and drinking?

Practice moderation

When it comes to using artificial sweeteners, ask yourself:

  • Do you think you consume more calories each day because you are getting zero calories from your diet drinks?
  • Do you find you crave sweets more during times you are drinking diet soda versus times you do not?

Bottom line: be mindful of what you are eating and drinking each day. You may have heard it a million times, but it always rings true: moderation is the key with everything, including artificial sweeteners. If you drink diet soda, try rotating sparkling flavored water in your day. Consume sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners only as part of a nutritious diet that allows you to control blood sugar, maintain or lose weight, and stay active and healthy.