Are Artificial Sweeteners IBS Triggers?

  • Yes! There's no such thing as a "natural" artificial sweetener. No artificial sweeteners are proven safe for IBS.

  • Saccharin (Sweet'N Low) , aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda), sorbitol and other sugar alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, erythritol), are the most popular artificial sweeteners in the US.

  • All can cause GI side effects ranging from gas and bloating to severe cramps and diarrhea.

  • In some cases, they cause problems in people who don't even have IBS. Imagine what they can do to you.

  • Saccharin and aspartame - saccharin has had carcinogenic warnings for years, and aspartame has generated thousands of consumer complaints to the FDA about side effects. Aspartame must carry a warning label for people who do not effectively metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine, one of aspartame's components.

  • There are no clear cut long-term studies on saccharin's or aspartame's effects on GI health. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence they cause digestive upsets, particularly if you're already susceptible.

  • Splenda is a newer artificial sweetener, misleadingly marketed as "natural" because it's engineered from real sugar. The deceptive "natural" label resulted in nine consumer class-action suits in several states and three federal commission complaints.

  • Splenda is a laboratory altered molecule of sugar that replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. Yum!

  • Splenda is not recognized by the body as a food substance, and it passes through the gut without being digested. This is about as far from a "real" food as you can get - there is nothing natural about it.

  • Sorbitol (and other sweeteners ending in "ol") are sugar alcohols, chemically extracted from fruits and vegetables. They are very poorly absorbed by the gut, resulting in both a low calorie count and dramatic digestive upheavals.

  • Sugar alcohols are so likely to cause gas, cramping, and bowel dysfunction they're often labeled with a warning, and cautions against eating a large amount. Personally, I'd caution against eating any amount of a sweetener known to wreak havoc on your gut.

  • What about stevia? Stevia is an herb in the chrysanthemum family. Stevia extracts can be 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). Stevia seems to be a perfectly safe sugar substitute with no GI side effects.

  • But! Many brands of stevia also (why?!) contain artificial sweeteners such as sugar alcohols, FODMAPS such as inulin, or high fructose sweeteners such as agave. All of these are IBS triggers.

  • Craving sweets? You're better off savoring small portions of treats made with real sugar. Sugar is not a health food, but sugar usually means sucrose, and sucrose isn't an IBS trigger.

  • Have your IBS-friendly cake and eat it, too with IBS safe dessert recipes that use real sugar, and are low fat, dairy-free, high soluble fiber.

Tip Takeaway: Artificial sweeteners are bad news for any IBS diet. Stevia - if it does not have other IBS triggers added to it - is a safe alternative. Otherwise, stick to plain old table sugar.

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