The Hobart

Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Sweet or Sour For Your Health?

by Serena Hodge
Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Sweet or Sour For Your Health?

It’s the age-old debate, are artificial sweeteners even good for us? Hold onto your hat, I’m about to take you through the rollercoaster of confusing evidence that exists around the safety and efficacy of their use as a sugar alternative.

But first, what exactly is an artificial sweetener? Scientifically referred to as a ‘non-nutritive’ sweetener, they are essentially a sweet compound that provides little to no calories. They are poorly absorbed in the digestive tract, making them an appealing alternative to sugar among those aiming to lose weight or manage diabetes. They are found in sugar-free soft drinks, and ubiquitous within the supermarket shelves. Find them in yoghurt, protein bars, kombucha, jelly, gum, some medications and even mouthwash! Although non-nutritive sweeteners are often collectively referred to as ‘artificial sweeteners’, there are actually three different types that exist:

  • Artificial sweeteners (eg. Sucralose, Aspartame, Saccharin)
  • Sugar alcohols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Erythritol, Malitol)
  • Natural low-calorie sweeteners (eg. Stevia, Allulose, Inulin, Monk Fruit, Tagatose)

Concern around artificial sweeteners arose in the 1970’s, when a study proposed a link between Saccharin and bladder cancer. Aspartame also gained a bad rap in 2005, due to a study linking the consumption of very high doses with an increased risk of lymphoma and leukemia. It’s important to note that these findings were derived from laboratory animals, with further research into the link between artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans showing no clear associations. Considering they have only existed for a short time in history, the long-term cancer risk from artificial sweetener consumption is currently unknown. Non-nutritive sweeteners are typically added to energy-dense processed foods that provide an abundance of calories without much satiating benefit; making them easy to overconsume. Some studies suggest that the consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners could be associated with weight gain, increased appetite and increased caloric intake. While others argue to negate these findings. There’s even some emerging research to suggest that frequent use of non-nutritive sweeteners could alter our taste buds; developing an affinity for sweet foods, while making naturally sweet foods (i.e. fruit) more unpalatable. This is because they have an ultra sweet taste profile in comparison to regular sugar. But take these findings with a grain of salt. They are derived from a budding area of research that can currently only be defined as weak at best.

The conversation on non-nutritive sweeteners wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the potential negative impact they are thought to have on gut health. With some research indicating they may contribute to imbalances in the gut microbiome and a reduction in glucose tolerance (if true, this would contradict their use among people with diabetes). Excessive consumption of sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect on the gastrointestinal system (this explains the laxative warning on sugar-free gum or lollies). As they are a poorly digested sugar that is rapidly fermented in the large intestine, they can also trigger an exacerbation of symptoms amongst Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers (think: gas, tummy pains, and *insert excuse to run to the bathroom again here*). Regarding the natural non-nutritive sweeteners (Stevia, monk fruit extract); not too much is known about the health outcomes of their frequent long-term intake. Although they are often touted as the safer and healthier choice in comparison to other non-nutritive sweeteners.  The verdict? This topic is complex. As it stands, there is not a clear consensus on whether there is a link between non-nutritive sweeteners and negative health outcomes. Rest assured, non-nutritive sweeteners are required to undergo rigorous safety testing under the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) before being approved as a food additive in Australia.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be consuming a diet laden with sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners; deeming this whole conversation irrelevant. But if you do feel a little dubious about their use in food, let me offer you a few simple steps you could take towards a sweetener-free way of eating. Opt for a handful of raw nuts instead of a sweetener laced muesli bar, choose the unsweetened Greek yoghurt and pair it with your favourite fruit, or make your own fruit-infused soda water to replace sugar free soft drink.

You can follow Serena on Instagram @coconut_mason or on her blog at

Did you know? Artificial sweeteners were discovered by accident. Forgetting to wash his hands before lunch, a researcher noticed a sweet taste on his fingers after experimenting with a coal tar derivative (benzoic sulfimide) in the lab. This led to the discovery of Saccharin in 1879.

Love this

Cold Water Wake Up Call
It seems everywhere I turn someone is talking about or participating in cold water swimming right now.
A Short Geelong Getaway
Since the Spirit of Tasmania terminal moved from Melbourne to Geelong late last year, a visit to Geelong has been on the radar.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
June 2024

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!