Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Feb

Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause an Insulin Spike?

The notion that artificial sweeteners (and sweet tastes in general) might produce an insulin response is one of those murky memes that winds itself around the blogs, but it’s never stated one way or the other with any sort of confidence. I briefly mentioned the possibility of non-caloric sweeteners influencing satiety hormones in last week’s diet soda post, and a number of you guys mentioned the same thing. Still, I’ve never seen unequivocal evidence that this is the case.

This whole idea first came to my attention some time ago when my dog Buddha got into a bottle of “alternative sleep assists” which contained, among other things, 5 HTP (version of l-tryptophan) and xylitol (sugar alcohol). Long story short, dogs can’t take xylitol because it causes a spike in insulin, which then severely depletes blood glucose. Buddha got past this with a trip to the vet’s at 10:30 Sunday night (thanks, Dr. Dean). But it occurred to me that the same effect might be seen in humans, which is why I pose the question today…

Do artificial sweeteners induce insulin secretion (perhaps via cephalic phase insulin release, which is sort of the body’s preemptive strike against foods that will require insulin to deal with)?

One of the reasons a definitive answer is rarely given is that the question is improperly framed. Artificial sweeteners is not a monolithic entity. There are multiple types of sweeteners, all of them chemically distinct from each other. A more useful question would be “What effect does [specific artificial sweetener goes here] have on insulin?” So let’s go around the circle and ask.

Does aspartame (aka Equal and Nutrasweet) affect insulin?

Aspartame is pretty gross stuff, what with its awful taste and hordes of people who get terrible reactions from consuming it, but that’s not what we’re interested in today. Luckily, there is a good amount of research explaining what, if any, effect aspartame has on insulin secretion.

One study found that protein produced a significant insulin response, while aspartame had no effect on insulin levels.

Another also found that aspartame had no effect on the insulin response in humans, whether alone or combined with carbohydrates.

Another earlier study (full PDF) examined the effects of aspartame on prolactin, cortisol, growth hormone, insulin, and blood glucose levels and found it had none. The authors used the same amount of aspartame you’d find in a standard artificially-sweetened drink but were unable to record any significant hormonal alterations.

A study of forty-eight healthy volunteers found no evidence that aspartame has an effect on insulin levels.

Overall, the evidence seems to suggest little, if any, effect on insulin secretion as a result of tasting or consuming aspartame.

Does saccharin (aka Sweet’N Low) affect insulin?

Although saccharin has lingered in obscurity and consumer banishment (who ever really picks Sweet ‘n’ Low, anyway?) for most of the last couple decades (until recently when the EPA dubbed it safe for human consumption), there is some research on its effects on insulin.

In one study, fasted human subjects swished around eight different taste solutions for 45 seconds, and then spat them out. No swallowing. Only the sucrose and saccharin solutions activated a cephalic phase insulin release.

On the other hand, another study using humans found the opposite: swishing and spitting sweet solutions (even caloric ones using sucrose) did not elicit CPIR, while another study found that neither saccharin nor aspartame influenced insulin secretion in both fasted diabetics and non-diabetics (although aspartame-fed subjects had slightly higher insulin levels than the control and saccharin groups, this was physiologically irrelevant given the steady blood glucose levels).

The evidence for saccharin’s effect on insulin is mixed, but either way, it doesn’t appear to have too big of an impact in real world terms.

Does acesulfame K (aka Sunett and Sweet One) affect insulin?

In one study, researchers found that direct transfusions of acesulfame K increased insulin secretion in rats in a dose-dependent fashion. The same researchers performed an in vitro study, subjecting isolated rat pancreatic islets to acesulfame K solutions, and found that the artificial sweetener was an independent actor on insulin secretion. Both indicate that there is some effect, but it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from in vitro rat studies using isolated pancreatic cells or in vivo rat studies using direct transfusions of sweeteners (as opposed to oral dosing).

Another study using isolated pancreatic cells found that only those artificial sweeteners with a bitter aftertaste (acesulfame K, saccharin, stevia, and cyclamate) augmented the insulin response in the presence of glucose. Aspartame, which does not have a bitter aftertaste, did not affect insulin. Note, though, that this was an in vitro study using isolated cells and that the presence of glucose was a prerequisite for insulin secretion. Of course, dieters slurping down artificial sweeteners do it during meals, most of which tend to feature large amounts of glucose.

Acesulfame K appears to affect insulin levels, although this effect has only been shown in contrived settings – either in the presence of glucose in isolated cells (in vitro), in isolated cells in without glucose (in vitro), or by direct transfusions without the presence of glucose (in vivo). We haven’t seen people orally taking acesulfame K in a fasted state and having an insulin response. Yet.

Does sucralose (aka Splenda) affect insulin?

Sucralose activates the sweet receptors in taste buds, and some in vitro studies have shown that sucralose can stimulate the release of incretin hormones, which increase the secretion of insulin, via the sweet taste receptors in enteroendocrine cells (located in the gut). An in vivo study of sucralose infusions into the gut, however, showed that it does not stimulate the incretin hormones GLP-1 or GIP, does not release insulin, and does not slow gastric emptying.

Another in vivo study, this time using healthy human subjects, got similar results: oral dosing of sucralose did not induce a cephalic insulin response, nor did it affect GLP-1. Not even appetite was affected.

The commercial version of sucralose, Splenda, is cut with dextrose as a bulking agent. Dextrose is essentially glucose, which certainly elicits an insulin response, so there’s definitely the potential for a slight insulin response to Splenda, but there’s not much if any evidence that sucralose has an independent in vivo effect on insulin.

Recently, a review of in vivo studies concluded that “low-energy sweeteners” do not have any of the effects on insulin, appetite, or blood glucose predicted by “in vitro, in situ, or knockout studies in animals.” As far as the clinical studies go, I think I’d have to agree. Am I going to use the stuff? No; there are other potential negative effects to artificial sweetener usage, including gut flora disturbances, the promotion of psychological dependencies on sweets, and long term safety issues, but I think it’s important to be clear on where the science lies. So far as I can tell, according to the literature there isn’t an appreciable insulin effect from most sweeteners.

Still, some people anecdotally report an effect. As Jimmy Moore says, “The bottom line is to check your own blood sugar response and see how it impacts YOU.” Word. If you need to know (and most people don’t), testing yourself would be the way to do it.

Let me know if I’ve missed something, or come up short in my analysis. There’s a lot of stuff out there and it’s possible that I’ve overlooked something. And as always, I’d love to hear about your personal experiences with artificial sweeteners, especially regarding their effect on your weight loss/gain, insulin, appetite, and dietary success/failure. Let me know in the comment section!

P.S. If you’re new here and aren’t sure what all the fuss over insulin is about start here: The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes (and you’ll understand it)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Before going primal, I used splenda in everything. I would get so used to that insanely sweet taste that I would slowly add more and more splenda to my food (yogurt, cottage cheese, baking, etc) until I was just buying the big bags of granulated splenda and dumping it on top of my food with cinnamon. Since I switched to the PB lifestyle, I have kicked splenda completely and have gained a new appreciation for all the flavors of full fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and coconut milk.

    Also, another drawback that I experienced with Splenda was its effects on overeating. Before BP I had a bad case of binge eating disorder, and I think that Splenda was at the root of my disorder. The sweetness messed something up in my mind or body that caused me to get all hopped up on sweet and ignore my body’s cues for satiety.

    Personally, I have to avoid the stuff or I lose it. Only plants and animals for me.

    Rhys wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I am suffering from Binge Eating disorder and i always thought there was no ‘cure’..

      but just kicking out sugar and sweetners did it for you?

      Sabrina wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Sabrina, I also have an eating disorder and have found the same thing with artificial sweeteners. Sweets go right to the “reward center” of the brain and it is so hard to stop eating them. Kicking the sugar habit REALLY helped me stop bingeing.

        AlyieCat wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • It was that easy for me. Ever since I kicked the carbs and splenda 4 months ago, I haven’t binged one time.

        Rhys wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • There are specific “trigger foods” for different people. Generally it’s something sweet or commercially produced. If people with these disorders stay away from them they will not have the triggers to start binging. Plus, it’s really hard to eat an entire 1/4th of a cow at one seating. They’d be stuffed way before they did a lot of damage.

        Holly J. wrote on February 4th, 2011
      • kicking out sugar, wheat, then grains – any insulin spikers – did it for me.

        bee wrote on February 4th, 2011
    • I applaud your effort to kick all those artificial sweeterners, i think they are absolute garbage, and powerful neuro-toxins.
      Long time ago i read something pertaining to artifical sweetners and how they triggered, blood sugar levels in the body, in short i read that they affect the appestat, a region of the hypothalamus that triggers appetite. And how also the second the body tastes something sweet thru the receptors and gustatory glands in the tongue mainly, in short that body will release insuling to put to work all that sweet material. I was my understanding that the seconds this happens the body is fooled into believing that sugar has entereed the body (blood stream)
      Ruben videoblog

      Ruben wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • >Long time ago i read something pertaining to artifical sweetners and how they triggered, blood sugar levels in the body, in short i read that they affect the appestat, a region of the hypothalamus that triggers appetite.

        Nice, except that this is invalidated by just about all the information in the article.

        Marc wrote on April 13th, 2011
        • The way that noncaloric sweeteners (at least artifical ones, I don’t know if it’s been tested with stevia) affect appetite is more subtle than what this article discusses. Binding to sweetness GPCRs still sends a message to brain, and when that *fails* to be followed by glucose delivery (and I guess, associated insulin spike) it essentially teaches the brain that sweetness doesn’t mean nutrition, which increases appetite with a delay of hours to days. I’m at work so I can’t link to sources right now, but look for a study involving rats and isocaloric yogurt drinks with artificial or sugar sweetener. I’m told by my neuroscience major partner that this has been replicated in humans too and the effect is actually pretty large.

          K wrote on April 14th, 2016
    • AGREED!……I have had the same experience. I now get instant headaches with the use of sucralose. (not worth even looking at the stuff) Aspartame leaves me craving, xylotol has a cold sharp taste and is a catalyst for a binge.
      However, I can tolerate a bit of stevia in my starbucks. I have found that finding and eating foods how God made them has worked “swimmingly” for me.

      Leeroy wrote on February 4th, 2011
    • I really feel the need to “pile on” here. I used to use sweeteners like splenda all of the time, tons of sugar and diet soda. And I would always say “I don’t know why I never feel full.”

      I started college in 2004 and finished December 2008. I went from 178-245. After 2 years of full time employment later I was 277 January 3rd 2011. I got that heavy WHILE counting calories. I couldn’t stop eating and was totally out of control.
      I would forget to pay attention while eating and not realize I’m full till I realize I’m choking down what’s in front of me.

      I started eating paleo/primal/4hb January 3rd of this year. I weighed 273 then, and weigh 256 right now.

      I feel fuller while eating, and actually get that feeling of “when” to slow down or stop eating. It happened at the end of my first week completely changing my diet. I was so confused and shocked and happy and overwhelmed I nearly cried.

      I’ve been at this for just over a month and I’m finally not hungry all the time. I haven’t slept this well in (literally) years. I had no problem shoveling my driveway. My scar like stretch marks have been visibly reduced already.

      Bryce Leo wrote on February 4th, 2011
      • Hiya – what do you mean by primal/4hb? I know the paleo diet…

        Naomi wrote on September 29th, 2014
        • I’m guessing he means “4 Hour Body”, in which Tim Ferris talks about a “slow carb” diet that is largely primal, with some exceptions.

          Guessing wrote on October 7th, 2014
    • Ok, so I’m not the only one binging after using splenda. I started using this about 1 year ago or so. I started developing a binge issue in October. This is so not like me. I have always eaten healthy, and never had any issue with food what so ever. It gradually got worse until today where I binge every day (sometimes several times a day). I have looked for several causes until today, when I thought Splenda might be a cause. Binging is so not like me, I thought there has to be an external source, and I think it’s what I’m putting in my body. For me, it took a while to begin to binge, or I didn’t notice the gradual increase of food. I have gained 10 lbs in the last year by the way. I’m going to see if I can return the last 2 large bags I bought.
      Thank you for sharing your experiences ladies and gentlemen. I never would have been able to catch on to this without your input and the above article. I hope this is the cause of my binging, because it is so unhealthy for my body to eat so unnecessarily, and I need it to end. I’ll cut the splenda out and see if it fixes the issue, besides it sounds like it’s unhealthy anyway.

      Bella wrote on January 8th, 2012
    • Agree with what you are saying, the article is about artificial sweetener and insulin level, it would have been better if you could have added something of your experience to help others, instead of letting us know of how you got addicted to sweetness.

      Temujin wrote on September 3rd, 2012
    • agreed. splenda made me gain weight on binge eating. before that i didn’t at all, even though i was bingeing (which is freaky i know). i too think it’s the “reward centre” thing which may rewire the brain.
      i’m perfectly healthy and fine now, but i wouldn’t touch splenda or aspartarme with a ten foot pole

      Dill wrote on October 4th, 2012
    • What’s “PB”?

      Elizabeth wrote on April 17th, 2013
      • PB is short for Primal Blueprint it’s anawesome book by Mark Sisson

        Aden wrote on April 23rd, 2013
    • Also don’t touch anything fat-free or low-fat dairy. Skim milk is used to make pigs gain weight. Their body realizes something is missing from the milk so they try to compensate by eating more. Gluten also makes people eat an estimated 400 calories more a day when it is eaten. I’ve noticed if I even touch it through a wheat contaminated soy sauce I become insatiably hungry. Such a careful line to walk …

      Desiree wrote on March 20th, 2014
      • Perhaps one of the most unfounded comments currently on the interwebs.

        Petter wrote on March 20th, 2014
        • Petter you may have too much time on your hands to know all of the inter web comments at this time. LOL

          I read comments all the time too because though sometimes they are nonsense they usually state more about the state of the planet, humans and human world views than the articles published.

          Trolls are annoying though because when you are looking for information below a thought imposed there are a ton of comments with no purpose; insults(esp. between world views), noise makers for the sake of making noise OR to distract from the real information that is coming forth that could help humans in similar situations. HMM … progress anyone?

          Des wrote on March 20th, 2014
  2. I was surprised that you didn’t mention stevia

    jupiter wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Stevia is not mentioned here because it is not an “artificial” sweetener.

      Hunter wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • I’d like to see an article comparing them all. Because stevia ‘artificial’ or not, is still processed.

        Primal wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • Agreed. I am a big stevia fan and would really like to know if it causes problems with my insulin levels.

          Kitty wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • Anything you eat is processed. If you cut your steak, it’s processed. It was processed before then actually, since cows don’t come pre-sliced.

          Words are slippery at the best of times but using imprecise language doesn’t exactly help.

          Dana wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • There’s something up with Stevia. Every time I’ve tried it I get massive stomach cramps.

          … and every once in a while I find it in the cupboard and forget that fact and experience it all over again.

          HeMan wrote on February 5th, 2011
        • What!?!? you’re comparing stevia to steak…?

          Josh wrote on February 5th, 2011
      • Well, it’s sweet without being sugar. That meets some of the criteria of being “artificially sweet”. 😛

        Diane the Purple wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • I love Stevia and you don’t have to buy processed stevia. You can grow it as an herb in your garden as I do and then use the dried leaves to complement your foods, I like it in tea or yogurt crushed up.

          o.b. wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  3. “alternative sleep assists” – doesn’t sound very primal. :-)

    What is it, exactly?

    Steve wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • My wife was going through menopause and wanted to try an herbal remedy to help her sleep when the hot flashes were hitting hard. She tried a few, including this. She used the stuff once or twice and abandoned it.

      Mark Sisson wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Talk about transparency! I’m always blown away by your honesty and integrity (primal fuel introduction discussion anyone?). Grok on!

        Ham-bone wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Has she tried valerian root tincture? That knocks everyone out and gives them a long peaceful slumber but the herb smells like dirty feet. Red clover and a few other herbs for females (blue cohash for one) might calm the hot flashes.

        Just a thought.

        Holly J. wrote on February 4th, 2011
        • I like the valerian as well… when I’m having sleep issues I’ll take melatonin AND valerian and the valerian seems to help with quality of sleep, and sleeping deeper.

          But yes, smells AND TASTES like dirty gym socks.

          I made my hubs take it once when he had vertigo and he was disgusted. :)

          Minxxa wrote on February 4th, 2011
        • I think you might’ve meant Black Cohosh – I used it for several months while my hormones were settling down & it nearly saved my sanity. Darn hot flashes!

          Mary wrote on February 4th, 2011
        • fyi
          Valerian is less likely to help ‘Type A’ persons. It has the opposite effect.

          Monica wrote on May 6th, 2011
        • Anyone considering taking natural remedies should consult a professional. Black and blue cohosh, for instance, can bring on labor and cause a miscarriage. Generally not a problem for someone who is peri-menopausal, I know. I’m just sayin’, natural remedies can also have unwanted side-effects.

          Jules wrote on March 6th, 2012
  4. I used to be able to use splenda with lots of things, namely my coffee or tea, but now, I have a box of it sitting in my kitchen that I haven’t touched in months. If I really want something sweet, I’d rather use honey than put all those chemicals in my body! At some point it just came down to my picking natural (with calories, insulin bla bla) than the zero calorie chemical crap.

    Tara wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  5. Even if they don’t cause an insulin response, any kind of sweetener will keep the body used to sweet tastes, and in my opinion, make the whole process of switching to eating real foods more difficult. I’ve noticed that clients I work with who use any sweetener, even stevia, in moderate to large amounts, take longer to get past the initial carb cravings, because they are still used to the taste.

    Katie wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I agree. If I chew gum that has artificial sweeteners, or eat sugar free candy, I just start to want real honest to god sugar.

      I also feel like I get an insulin response when chewing gum. I haven’t tested that with a blood glucose meter, but it sure feels like it.

      AlyieCat wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I absolutely agree. I don’t use completely ‘artificial’ sweeteners, just stevia or erythlitol, or dates, yet the cravings are still there. The more I indulge, the more I crave. It’s gotten so bad that now I had to ask my family to hide my blender (one of my favourite treats is cashewnut butter blended with erythritol, vanilla, and coconut flakes and maybe a bit of coconut oil), cocoa powder, stevia,erythritol, even the coconut flakes. As of Monday, I am quitting all forms of sweeteners, except for cinnamon. I also won’t blend my foods anymore and will quit high sugar fruits like bananas as well, because even they can trigger a binge in me – how crazy is that??

      Foxygee wrote on May 5th, 2012
  6. Do these studies actually report what happens in your brain after you ingest artificial sweeteners? I imagine the sweeteners’ effect on the “sweet receptors” in the brain and the subsequent instructions to your organs are the bigger problem. People are probably “sweet receptor” junkies as much as they are measureable-insulin-spike junkies. If they are this kind of junkie, they will keep going back to an artificial sweetener or natural one on the same kind of roller coaster. And the idea of a swish and spit test seems ridiculous. The real effects of this kind of ingestion happen when this stuff runs through your intestines and gets processed in your stomach. I don’t need to have contact with very many overweight and/or moody Diet Coke drinkers to keep me off of the stuff.

    Reid wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  7. What about Stevia?

    Mike wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  8. Humans and dogs and cats all process things differently. What may not be poison to a human can be lethal to a dog think chocolate. Also, their bodies do thinks that ours don’t like cats make their own vitimin C where human can’t.

    So, any test done on an animal other than a human we should view it with a grain of salt and understand that it may not really apply to us humans. All we really now for sure is that those animals in the test had a certian response.

    I think it is best to stick with something that has not been over processed or made by man when deciding to put it in your mouth. That said it can be hard to avoid the occasional sweet. When that does happen I go for the real thing.

    primal tree top wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  9. 8 years ago i was using artificial sweeteners for my oatmeal. when i cut it and replaced it with fruit, my energy levels increased , my mood has changed. Since last year i even cut the oatmeal and went 99.9% primal. so happy..even my teeth problems gone away since i am not getting any sugar at all.

    salim wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  10. Good info Mark! I don’t see any that would be an acceptable substitute for the life we’ve taken on. Better to play it safe if you can and do without. Now that I’ve gone through all the issues with taking processed foods and sugars out of my diet, I don’t think I would want to experiment with them to see which ones didn’t have any insulin effects on me. LOL.

    Poppabear wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  11. did you know that if you leave Equal in piles near where ants are invading your house, they will carry it back to their nests and kill off the whole colony… food for thought!

    HeidiAnne wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • good to know to get rid of ants.

      AlyieCat wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Great! I’ve been wondering what to do with that bag of Equal! haha

        bokbadok wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I heard the same thing,except use sugar.

      Ron wrote on February 9th, 2011
  12. You briefly mentioned xylitol in the first paragraph in regards insulin spikes in dogs, have you found it has a similar effect on humans. And how about other sugar alcohols, ie, malitol, erythritol? Anybody?

    Gena wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I use xylitol in moderation. also it is in my chewing gum it is great. It is natural (made from Birch Trees) I have noticed no ill effects from it. It is not good for dogs though.

      Gayle wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Maltitol (and it’s syrup) are the ones to really watch out for, they are nearly sugar in their insulin causing effect, and are mixed in greater quantity because they are slightly less sweet than sugar. Maltitol chocolate messed me up good on my first run at Atkin’s.

      james wrote on June 13th, 2011
    • I like xylitol in my toothpaste, but didn’t like it as a diet supplement, I feel that it interfered with my normal gut flora, probably killing or inhibiting them, so I stopped eating it. Also, it is expensive, so I figured a little real sugar is better.

      Wulf wrote on January 11th, 2013
  13. As a Type 1 diabetic Primal 2 yrs-
    For me-
    absolutely no effect on my BGs at all -Stevia -nil not one bit

    Sue wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  14. Oh good grief, people. I’m tired of the holier-than-thou attitude about artificial sweeteners. If they cause you trouble, then abandon them, but don’t make it sound like those of us who use them are somehow “unnatural”. We use a liquid form of sucralose that we buy on-line (therefore, no dextrose, no carbs). One drop on our morning coffee or tea and that’s it. We have been doing low-carb/Primal/Paleo long enough to have absolutely NO cravings for carbs anymore. No binging, no problems.
    Thanks, Mark, for the word on these. People try to make these out to be the devil in disguise. My opinion is, no harm, no foul. Everybody is different.

    Jeanie wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • AMEN!!

      Katy wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Great reply, I was in danger of being severely brainwashed just reading the replies in this topic, it’s great being careful with regards to your health and what you eat, but obsessiveness isn’t a great state of mind! For me I think sucralose is one of the safer sweeteners. i don’t react as badly to it as acesulfame k and aspartame in whey protein products.

      Michael wrote on February 9th, 2011
    • Thanks. I would have to agree. I’m a bodybuilder and have cut out sugar and simple carbs completely out of my diet for the past year. I don’t miss it and I never really have a craving. But it’s nice in the evening to down a protein shake with a little sucralose in it as a dessert treat. I never feel a spike or a low after so I know it’s not affecting my blood sugar at all.

      Jason wrote on May 17th, 2012
  15. um actually I pick sweet and low over any other kind of artificial sweetener (which is often if I’m getting tea or coffee out, because it takes a lot less artificial sweetener than sugar)

    Why? it has the least aftertaste, and its just what I’ve always used. I can’t stand splenda in anything – even using it myself in proper amounts (As opposed to the over sweetened diet drinks) it has the worst aftertaste of all of them, despite the fact it isn’t supposed to have one…

    lurker wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I’ve always used sweet n low too, and have tried just about every other sweetner and most just don’t do it. Stevia is fine in cold things, but in coffee…BLEH~ Can’t do it, it’s MUCH more bitter than S&L. I figure it this way…Saccharin has been around longer than most of the others, and I just can’t find that much negative press about it, especially when in comparison to Aspartame! Until I find something natural that actually tastes good in coffee, I’ll do my little pink packets~

      Jackie wrote on July 8th, 2015
  16. Mark,
    Considering the cephalic phase insulin response occurs due to a majority of reasons – sight, smell and even thought – is it really a bad thing to have some insulin response from sweeteners? Sure, this is no reason to dump half a dozen Splenda’s in your morning coffee, but a rare pack or two when getting used to the low carb thing might be more beneficial to folks. What do you think?

    Make no mistake… I hate those bastards and would rather eat honey if I wanted something sweet.

    Raj Ganpath wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  17. Makes me wonder if that Now Foods Xylitol Toothpaste is jacking my insulin every morning/night.

    SweetTooth wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • not.

      Katy wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  18. “The commercial version of sucralose, Splenda, is cut with dextrose as a bulking agent.”
    In the UK, Splenda Granular is cut with maltodextrin. One teaspoonful weighs 0.5g and contains 2kcal. Splenda tabs are cut with ~30mg lactose.

    Nigel Kinbrum wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Thanks Nigel, I wanted to highlight the point as well that most of the things (particularly products) discussed tend to be very American specific. For instance, HFCS is not at all used commonly in other countries like Australia, and neither is diet ‘soda’ marketed to people as something that assists in weight loss (as was implied in the diet soda post). Along the same lines, artificial sweeteners are also not marketed as such (eg no ads on tv, maybe in womens’ magazines).

      The reason I bring it up is because a lot of the advice on here seems just a tad alarmist, and seems to be to deter people from relying on these sweeteners and on diet sodas for weight loss. There are some of us here who use both of these things occasionally (eg diet coke/ coke zero/ xylitol/ equal once or twice a week) with no ill effects at all. And at such a low frequency of consumption, I would rather drink a can of coke zero/ diet coke than one of regular coke with about 9 teaspoons of sugar…. the insulin spike from that would wollop the one from diet coke.

      MR wrote on February 4th, 2011
  19. According to Gary Taubes, in his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” there was a study conducted by Stylianos Nicolaidis
    which demonstrated that rats will secrete insulin in response to a sweet taste, regardless if it’s real sugar or a no calorie sugar substitute, implying that the body responds to the perceived taste of sweetness by releasing insulin. This study is compared to Pavlov’s dogs, which would salivate at the sound of a bell, which was associated with feeding time. Our bodies are capable of similar responses. So, Nicolaidis suggested that the release of insulin is “pre-adaptive”, meaning our bodies anticipate the effects of a meal or particular food and so prepare the body regardless of its caloric nutrients.
    I apologize that my version of the book is digital, so I don’t have proper page numbers and can’t figure out what chapter this is, but if anyone is more clever than I, the Kindle page is: 8,878-86 out of 13,715

    Sylvie wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Which applies to any food, artificial or not.

      Katy wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • You are just full of perceptive comments, aren’t you?

        Yes, any sweet food can cause this reaction. However, these foods are not being ingested under the assumption that they are doing nothing to our bodies. People have been sold on these chemical sweeteners- liquid or powder- as completely care free sweetness. If they have some effect on insulin, then they are not really what they are claimed to be. This is on top of the known and suspected problems and toxicity of these sweet chemicals.

        James wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • I meant ANY food, not just sweet ones… “our bodies anticipate the effects of a meal.” And most of the “chemicals” are not toxic. That’s the point. Just labeling a substance as toxic doesn’t make it so.

          Katy wrote on February 4th, 2011
  20. I’m curious about Stevia.

    Chris wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  21. Sylvie wrote: “demonstrated that rats … implying that the body responds to the perceived taste of sweetness by releasing insulin.” Which suggests henceforward that rats should avoid sweeteners, yes? {tee hee hee!}

    Mark, I decided a month or so ago to stop all use of Splenda (liquid Sweetzfree — no carbs at all) in the hopes of seeing a drop in my pre-diabetic blood sugar. No such effect yet.

    I did find at first that when I’d sit to a meal, my reaction was: “I CRAVE my sweet drink.” (I used Wyler’s brand of strawberry “koolaid” – but I have never found it to make me crave anything except my strawberry drink.) (I also use a small amount of Splenda in my morning coffee, with 1 TBLS cream and 1/4 cup of unsweetened almond milk.)

    I switched to drinking water with (1/4 to 1/3 cup) lemon juice (not from concentrate) — but ended up putting two drops of the Splenda in that too. But it’s good to know I can go back to my strawberry drink, once I’ve made sure the Splenda isn’t affecting my blood glucose. Thanks!

    Elenor wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • You’ll get more of an insulin response from cream then you will splenda.

      Jason wrote on May 17th, 2012
  22. Yeah I’m inclined to agree with Sylvie above. If you eat enough Splenda in one dose, I think it does have an affect. For the first time since I began the challenge three weeks ago, I decided to have a sugar free dessert. It was a kiddie Rita’s ice sugar free cherry.
    1.) It tasted crazy sweet to me for sugar free, but this is because I haven’t been eating my usual sugar laden garbage I’m guessing. 2.) Shortly after consuming this I felt so bad almost like low blood sugar. It was if my body reacted to the sugar free like sugar.
    Luckily it subsided after a few hours of feeling yucky. Also, I think they use a lot in the SF ice because it’s listed as having 30g of carbs on the internet. That’s a lot of splenda for 30g of carbs, and I think that it would influence your insulin at that high of a sweetness level.
    Needless to say, I’m going back to my 2 ounces of dark chocolate or fruit if I need a sweet fix.

    Ashley Smith wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  23. I use sweetener in my coffee and its a noname brand. The ingredients just say dextrose. Is that the worst one to use cuz mark said “Dextrose is essentially glucose, which certainly elicits an insulin response,”????

    Lindsey wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I reckon that quote from Mark you post there is pretty much saying dextrose is going to have an effect, but it’s up to you whether that’s something you want. Keep in mind that a lot of the artificial sweeteners aren’t tested, so one being labeled as toxic and another not might simply be that the second one doesn’t have data on it.
      Maybe go by how you feel when you drink it?

      Sylvie wrote on February 5th, 2011
      • Dextrose is a glucose polymer. Glucose is what every cell in your body runs on. You should be able to digest it very easily (not as sweet as sucrose, which contains fructose, or fructose) but so can your gut bacteria, heh heh. Taken alone, it will cause a BG spike.

        Another Halocene Human wrote on February 7th, 2011
  24. We’ve been using xylitol cause of it’s purported (and now observed) benefits with discouraging tooth decay (have a 3 year old) and my question is – is xylitol considered an artificial sweetener? it’s derived from the woody stems of plants – birch trees, corn stalks – and it’s an extraction process – not “naturally” occurring (but then sugar cane is extracted too i guess…) technically it’s a “sugar alcohol” and has a GI of 7 rather than sugar at about 100 – OK, so – it “feels” pretty clean to use it, no jitters or nausea- however i notice that there is still a sweet craving i occasionally get that xylitol does satisfy –

    Since going primal – i have had increasingly intense reactions to falling off the wagon – i used to be able to down a whole bag of potato chips no prob(yes , i know) and now when i have just a big bowl i get nauseous and have that empty-gut kinda feeling (unpleasant) – and xylitol muffins or whatever does NOT do this – i am assuming that the chips (starch quick into sugars) are spiking insulin while xylitol just is not? mind f*ck or real??

    DaiaRavi wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Xylitol has, iirc, 2kCal/g, so it has half the caloric density of carbohydrates. It is usually well tolerated but all of the sugar alcohols may have laxative/IBS effects in susceptible individuals.

      Xylitol is protective of teeth when swished around in the mouth (as in xylitol gums or toothpastes). One reason is that destructive oral bacteria cannot consume xylitol for fuel and thus starve out. I can’t fathom what eating xylitol in food would do for you except to reduce caloric density & possibly cause unpleasant gut problems if you are prone to that sort of thing.

      If you are concerned for your little one’s teeth, vitamins A, D, K, and Calcium should be on your mind. Sources include cod liver oil and milk. There are lots of controversies about milk, which does vary in micronutrient content. Nevertheless, even with the problems with the US milk supply, a recent study showed that milk-drinking children had better bone density compared to children who did not drink milk.

      IMO, whole milk from pastured cows or goats is best for children. Children should never receive raw milk–severe gastrointestinal upset and death are among the risks. (Children also do not “need” raw milk as, unlike most adults, they produce plenty of lactase in their guts. Some children, due to genetics, do drop off in lactase production around 7/8 years and kefir or yogurt can be substituted. These fermented products contain much less lactose than milk.) There is also a claim that certain breeds of cows provide more healthful milk than others. That’s the perfectionist approach; I’d say that USDA A+D fortified whole milk is “good enough” for dental health, if that’s your concern. (That said, I personally won’t buy any milk from cows fed rBGH. At the very least, it’s cruel, and the use of it hurts small dairies the most.)

      Another Halocene Human wrote on February 7th, 2011
      • “Children should never receive raw milk”

        Nonsense. Absolute garbage. Children have been happily consuming raw dairy products for as long as homo sapiens sapiens has been consuming dairy products.

        Choose a clean, safe, fully pastured source from a producer you trust. Ask for the lab reports or have it tested yourself if you’re concerned. But don’t deprive your children of the benefits of healthy, grass-pastured raw milk due to this kind of alarmist nonsense.

        mixie wrote on April 18th, 2011
      • Regarding xylitol as a dental assistive product, see the work from Dr. Ellie Phillips, DDS, at

        Terry wrote on January 6th, 2013
  25. I think part of the reason why this is talked about also is due to the fact that a lot of artificial sweetener packets include somewheres around a gram of maltodextrin which if i am not mistaken is a starch aka a carb, no? So if you are putting 3 or 4 (i have seen some people put seriously like 10) packets in your morning coffee that will have some kind of impact on your insulin levels!

    Andy B wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Yep, which is why Dr. Bernstein, the diabetes expert, recommends liquid sweeteners or tablets.

      Katy wrote on February 3rd, 2011
      • Right, but they are still man made artificial sweeteners.

        James wrote on February 3rd, 2011
        • That are basically inert. Many “natural” substances are certainly not so. What’s your point?

          Katy wrote on February 4th, 2011
    • But notice no frucktose. That last word may be misspelled. Perhaps the “r” should be dropped?!

      Walter wrote on June 15th, 2016
  26. Hi Mark…I love coming to your page every day and reading about the primal lifestyle, which I try to do to the best of my ability because I truly do think it is a healthy way of living. However, I’m in college and the 50 plus food trucks on campus are sometimes too enticing to resist…mmm crepe truck…but thats not why I’m writing this. I merely have a question about Grok. My question is this: You state that pre agricultural revolution, we were a rapidly evolving species (namely our brains were evolving and growing) Now, you say, post AR, because of grains and wheat and ultimately sugar, we have slowed down this evolutionary process. Based on the mounds and mounds of evidence you bring forth, I can appreciate and mostly agree with your theory. (You yourself can admit it still is only a theory) However, it seems to me you are very focused on only biological evolution, and not what some (and I) may call “cultural evolution”, as in how we have evolved socially to interact with other humans. This undoubtedly is something that should be noted, because Grok and his mates certainly did not interact with one another the same way people did in Greece or even today. (Im on the interwebs and all writing this!) So, finally, what I want to ask is, isn’t it just as likely that at the dawn of the Ag. Revolution, we did not only have a major shift in our diet, but a major shift with our culture…and this, just as the diet, had an effect on our minds. No longer did we have to develop our brains to outsmart prey and catch or scavenge for dinner. Now that we could grow our own food, this need to evolve mentally wasnt as necessary, not on a dietary level, but because our daily lives shifted to more of an inter-personal level. It is merely a question, and I’m sure you are more than capable of a response. Thank you so much for your website and time.

    Jake wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  27. So what do those going Primal use as a sweetener? Sugar? Or nothing, no sweetener? Sounds like there’s nothing wrong with these artificial ones (except that they taste bad and prevent you from eating real food and drinking water). Just curious.

    RP wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  28. We use Truvia the majority of the time, mostly in coffee or tea and occasionally use Splenda. But that’s maybe 1/2 a packet if nothing else is available, and something needs a bit of sweet to make it taste better.

    Ellen wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  29. I gave up artificial sweetners after being on it between the ages of 4-35. The doctors back in the 1970’s told my parents that I was “allergic” to sugar which is actually impossible since sugar has no protein to be allergic to. As it turns out, I had related symptoms of Celiac disease that was only just diagnosed 3 years ago. I ended my love of artificial sweetners when I came down with something that has been termed “splenda flu” on the internet (headaches, joint aches, fever) I gave up splenda and all other artificial sweetners and never looked back. I use honey, sugar in the raw, and a little agave. If you are going to consume something sweet then just own it already. A teaspoon of honey or sugar only has about 4-9 grams of carbs in it. You can’t get around that sweets are not good for you. There is no magical way around it. Please also note that many people with Celiacs Disease report allergic reactions to stevia for some reason. So, not too sure about stevia being all that good for you either. Good luck picking your poison!

    Gabrielle wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • I get migraines from stevia–didn’t know there was a connection with celiac! I have been on a gluten free diet for several years with much improvement

      Debrah wrote on February 5th, 2011
      • she was talking about splenda, not stevia. They are not related.

        paco wrote on July 24th, 2011
    • I agree about being weary about stevia. It is not good to assume that something that is natural is good for you. Marijuana and tobacco are natural and plant derived, and these are NOT good for you. Many “natural, plant derived” substances are poisonous. I’m sure stevia is fine in moderation, but lets just not assume is has no harmful effects just because it comes from a plant.

      Jessica wrote on March 11th, 2011
      • Marijuana is a plant thats NOT good for you??? Im sorry for you… Especially since you put it into the same category at Cigarettes which are loaded with chemicals, have no medicinal benefits at all and are reponsibile for millions of deaths! Please do some research about it before just posting. Give concrete evidence its bad…

        Ger wrote on August 25th, 2013
  30. Before going primal I drank 2 cans of soda at lunch and dinner. I switched to primal and I couldn’t stop having that sweet drink with my lunch and dinner so I made fresh squeezed lemonade with Stevia. I now only drink lemonade with dinner, hopefully in a couple more weeks I will be strictly water and away from artificial sweeteners altogether.

    Derrick wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  31. If any study showed bad affects from Splenda, it is due to the dextrose they use as a filler.

    I only use liquid Splenda that is pure Sucralose and nothing else. Thus for a 12 oz glass of limeade that is very bitter, I only need to use two drops of Splenda.

    The brand of liquid Splenda i recommend is Sweetzfree. You can buy it on the internet. A 1 oz bottle lasts me 3 months.

    Jake wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  32. Great articles as usual, thanks Mark.

    Andy wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  33. Mark,
    Great post!
    Obviously, you sort through a ton of research and evidence to put together a post such as this. It seems that many studies contradict one another. I was wondering how you critique all of these papers and studies. Specifically, I would be interested to see the demographics of the study participants as well as the methods employed. There are so many confounding variables that aren’t always apparent in an abstract.

    Mike B wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  34. Here’s an interesting thing about Splenda/sucralose. A few years ago there was a paper published in Nature or Science (I don’t have the ref off the top of my head) wherein they had successfully sequenced the first human “microbiome.” That is, they basically scraped the GI lining of some poor grad student (actually I think they’re n was like 3 or something) and they sequenced every bit of DNA in there to find out what kinds of microbes normally inhabit the GI tract and then figure out what they’re doing metabolically.

    There was one result that was immediately striking to me, but which the authors of the paper didn’t appreciate, nor do I think anyone has picked up on this yet–there were de-cholorinase genes they picked up. The thing that prevents both us and the bacteria from metabolizing that sucralose is the presence of the chloride groups on the sugar backbone. Well, if you’re a bacteria and you get an enzyme that can cleave those pesky chlorines off, you suddenly have yourself a unique resource that you can metabolize and your competitors in the GI tract can’t.

    The question then is whether these bugs are doing this intra- or extracellularly. If they’re secreting dechlorinating enzymes extracellularly, then there is some leakage obviously into our own cells. The authors did point out that some 10-15% (by their estimates) of our caloric energy was provided via interaction with our bacterial commensals (although, again, not necessarily by making Splenda metabolically available to us).

    Most people tend to forget (or never knew to begin with) that they have more microbial cells in and/on their body then human cells–so we can’t ignore their impact (though the problem is that we’re still in our infancy scientifically in understanding what exactly that impact is). The bottom line is that bacteria can evolve clever ways to extract energy out of just about anything (they’ve had 4 billion years to figure this out). We can make up all these compounds to trick our body and metabolism, but those are potential food sources for bacteria and they’re going to find ways to metabolize that stuff. And so depending on how efficient they are at it, how much of said resource you’re consuming, etc., it wouldn’t surprise me to find people thinking they’re adding no calories in a soda or whatnot, and actually getting some energy via microbial metabolism.

    So it’d be interesting to look at the insulin responses of people who habitually have high levels of artificial sweetners in their diet vs various other populations. My guess is that in cases like the poster above who used to “pour” the Splenda over everything (I used to be guilty of buying those big bags of Splenda and using tons of it too…), you’re going to select for commensal GI flora that can turn it into real sugar and you’re potentially looking at some of that leaking into your own cells.

    As an aside, in response to Gabrielle above, yes, you can have an allergic reaction to sugar. One of the fundamental steps of the innate immune system is to react to little bits of bacterial polysaccharides (most bacteria are covered in “coats” of long chains of sugars, sometimes with amino groups, lipids, etc thrown in). I’m being technical here–I’ve never heard of anyone having an immune response against a mono- or di-saccharide because, that would be a pretty lethal condition (though we do see conditions autoimmune conditions where we make antibodies against our own DNA, so I suppose anything is possible). But could your immune system mistake some longer chain polysaccharide from a dietary source for a bacterial one and lead to an inflammatory response–certainly. So thus, you could be allergic to sugars, although if they’re glommed together in a chain, it would technically be more like a starch allergy, and well, I don’t think I need to tell anyone posting here about that process. I’m just saying there is a very small possibility your immune system could go haywire and get activated over smaller chains of polysaccharide than we might see from say your typical grain.

    RG73 wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  35. My dad’s been suffering from diabetes since 8 years ago. He’s already undergoing dialysis twice a week due to his renal problem as a complication. I just hope the medical society get better researches about all these stuff including artificial sweeteners.

    Shiela Marvel wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  36. Testing your blood to determine effect has been mentioned several times however unless you are checking for insulin testing is not germaine to this discussion, right? Nobody is suggesting that artificial sweeteners raise your blood sugar, just your insulin. Theoretically if there is an effect a diet soda would lower blood glucose and potentially create hypoglycemia in a normal person? now if you are choking down bun-less cheese burgers and bacon cakes with a diet soda, an insulin increase would not be a good thing.

    I test my blood regularly (not diabetic just interested to see what food does to the blood)may have to experiment and see what turns up.

    Thoughts about testing and insulin response?

    Jason L. wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • Well – it seems like if a certain substance caused an insulin response, then blood glucose would necessarily go down. Is that right?

      bokbadok wrote on February 3rd, 2011
    • absolutely right!

      Dr. Maapkra wrote on December 23rd, 2012
    • It IS possible to test insulin levels, but not in an at-home monitoring system that I am aware of. Now THAT would be cool. Let’s make it and get rich! :)

      Dr. Maapkra wrote on December 23rd, 2012
  37. Mark,

    I highly recommend for you to check out the book The Hormone Diet by Natasha Turner. The book covers the affects of artificial sweeteners on our hormones – especially on the sensitivity of insulin. Those guys are terrible for you, really. If you’re going to use any art. sweets. stick to stevia. But yeah, check out the book, it changed my mind – and now I’m studying hormones at Harvard :)


    Sasha wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  38. I was surprised that you didn’t mention stevia , but nice post , thanx mark but i don’t know about this “Does sucralose (aka Sucralose) affect insulin?”

    Brash wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  39. Since going Primal in February of 2010 I’ve lost 104 lbs. I’ve eliminated grains and sweets except for rare occasions but the one thing I havent been able to kick is Coke Zero. From personal testimony it must not be having much of an effect on insulin because of the weight loss. I’m sure though I should kick it for some other reason.

    gt wrote on February 3rd, 2011

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