Are Zero-Sugar Drinks With Artificial Sweetener Healthy? Experts Weigh In

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Of late, diet soft drinks, which claim to have low or no sugar amount have found favour among weight watchers and people suffering from diabetes. Sugar-free foods and drinks often contain artificial sweeteners which lend some sweetness to make them more palatable. This helps people pay heed to their craving for carbonated and fizzy drinks without loading up on sugar. Some people even add artificial sweeteners directly to their foods and drinks like tea. But are these products really healthy? A recent study conducted by Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute has claimed that erythritol present in these food and drink items may cause cardiovascular issues. Let’s delve further into it. 

(Also Read: 7 Sugar-Free Breakfast Recipes Perfect For Diabetes Diet)

What is Erythritol? 

Erythritol is a type of artificial sweetener, made from fermented corn. It makes the product taste sweet like sugar, without containing actual sugar. For a long time, erythritol has been considered a good substitute for refined sugar. You must know that our body also naturally produces some amount of erythritol. 

However, the latest study published in the journal, Nature Medicine, states that erythritol was found to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The research studied 4000 people in the US and the UK with a high level of erythritol in their bloodstream. It was found they were more prone to heart issues. The experts said that erythritol tends to form clots in the veins and arteries, which is a major cause of heart attacks.  

But it should be noted here that many of the participants already had high blood sugar and some heart-related problems. It was noticed by Layne Norton, PhD in Nutritional Sciences, who debunked the claims of the study and explained why. In an Instagram post, Layne Norton said that “this paper is being blown WAY out of proportion!” 

He said that firstly, it was a “cohort study that looked up levels of erythritol in the blood over a period of three years, and compared them to cardiac event and mortality. This paper did not examine erythritol intake!” 

Secondly, because the population they studied were already suffering from problems like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, it is highly likely that it is simply a case of reverse causality. “That means, erythritol did not cause these people to get sick, rather, these people being sick, caused their erythritol levels to be elevated in the blood,” he added. 

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People often opt for sugar-free drinks and foods to reduce sugar intake.
Photo Credit: iStock

(Also Read: 7 Best Sugar-Free Desserts To Try At Home)

So, Are Artificial Sweeteners Healthy Or Not? 

Norton revealed that some studies have proved that erythritol supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity and help manage blood sugar levels. The problem could be with long-term or excessive consumption, especially in people already predisposed to cardiovascular problems.  

Norton concluded by saying that this study does not have clear evidence that erythritol causes heart attacks or is unhealthy, and warrants further research. Senior author of the study, Stanley Hazen, who is the chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Sciences at Lerner Research Institute also said, “Sweeteners like erythritol, have rapidly increased in popularity in recent years but there needs to be more in-depth research into their long-term effects.”  

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