Sugar or artificial sweeteners: what's the best sweetener for gut health?

Sugar or artificial sweeteners: what's the best sweetener for gut health?

Sweet treats and desserts are undeniable temptations. Historically, sugar was the go-to sweetener for all things delicious. However, as concerns about calorie intake and health complications such as diabetes grew, artificial sweeteners entered the market as a seemingly superior alternative. But are they really?
Caitlin Hall
by Dr Caitlin Hall (PhD, RD)
Head of Clinical Research

While sugar, in its natural form, offers a sweet taste with associated calories, artificial sweeteners promise the same sweetness with negligible or no calories. Sounds great, doesn’t it? 

But here's the deal: neither option is perfect. Consuming a ton of sugar isn't ideal for a myriad of health reasons. However, when it comes to our gut health, it might be the lesser of two evils compared to guzzling down heaps of artificial sweeteners. Here's why...

The impact of artificial sweeteners on gut health

Common artificial sweeteners such as Saccharin (found in Sweet n’ Low®), Aspartame (the active ingredient in Equal®), and Sucralose (popularly known as Splenda®) have fewer than 3 calories per teaspoon. This is a sharp contrast to sugar's 16 calories for the same amount. While these sweeteners may not affect blood sugar levels as dramatically as sugar, they aren’t necessarily “better” for you.

Artificial sweeteners, while approved by the FDA, are still under scientific scrutiny. Their long-term effects on health remain ambiguous and potentially concerning. Recent research has pointed to the potential links between artificial sweeteners and several health issues such as obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease.

From a gut health perspective, artificial sweeteners might not be friends to our microbiome. Research suggests that these sweeteners might play a role in altering the diversity and composition of our gut microbiome. Remember, our gut thrives on diversity, so messing with this balance isn’t exactly great news. More alarmingly, there are hints that these sweeteners could have negative implications for diabetes. They might be messing with our insulin sensitivity, which is a big red flag.

The best sweetener for gut health

While some sugar alternatives like blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, coconut sugar, raw honey, and stevia are considered better than artificial sweeteners, moderation remains key. Overconsumption of even these natural sweeteners can adversely affect gut health and overall well-being.

Among the lot, stevia stands out. It is a natural, plant-based sweetener that doesn't impact blood sugar levels in the same way other sweeteners do, potentially making it the best choice for gut health.

What about good old sugar?

Surprisingly, most of the sugar we consume has little to do with our gut bacteria. That's because sugar gets absorbed way up high in our digestive system, specifically in the small intestine. This means that the majority of the sugar we indulge in never even makes it to the grand party happening in our large intestine, where most of our gut microbiota are busy grooving. So, while having too much sugar has its own set of health problems, when it comes to the gut microbiome, it might not be the prime offender.

Takeaway message

In the battle between sugar and artificial sweeteners, the gut appears to favour neither. But if you have to choose, natural sugars or alternatives like stevia might be the way to go. It’s essential to remember that balance is crucial. No artificial sweetener can magically transform an unhealthy food into a nutritious one. The goal should always be to prioritise whole, unprocessed foods for optimal health.

Dietary fibre: the real MVP

Instead of being stuck in the sugar vs. artificial sweeteners debate, let's focus on something we can all get behind: dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is like the fairy godmother for our beneficial gut bacteria. It helps produce short-chain fatty acids which are pivotal for a healthy gut. When we consume more fibre, we're essentially rolling out the red carpet for these gut-nourishing substances, ensuring our gut microbiome stays robust and cheerful. 

A special mention 

Before you rush off to inspect every label in your pantry, we've got some sweet news. myota's original fibre blends and flavoured blends are crafted to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome and reduce blood sugar spikes from a meal. And guess what? We're strictly no artificial sweeteners! So you can enjoy the benefits without the worry.

Have a sweet tooth but want to look after your gut? Check out our new range of delicious ready-to-mix drinks, myota flavoured blends. Specially formulated for digestive, metabolic, and immune health, all completely free from artificial sweeteners. Elevate your health today.