The battle of sweetener options, natural and artificial, continues. Consumers are presented with various types of both artificial and natural sweeteners including Splenda, Sweet n Low, Equal, NutraSweet, Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and plain sugar. With each of these come their own unique benefits and risks. With the recent findings on erythritol, it is important to note that erythritol is used in a variety of products, from “health” bars to sugar-free candy, and is not always clearly labeled. As always, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with any food or beverage product, and to be aware of one’s own personal health history and risk factors.
Consumers are now presented with a wide variety of both artificial and natural sweeteners including Splenda, Sweet n Low, Equal, NutraSweet, Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, and plain sugar. While these options can provide a way to enjoy sweet food and drinks without the calories associated with sugar, recent studies have raised concerns about some of the potential risks associated with certain sweeteners.
Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, was discovered in the late 1800’s, and was popularized in the mid- to late-twentieth century. It, and the numerous sweeteners to follow, are up to hundreds of times sweeter than plain old sugar, have minimal to no calories, but have been associated with some minor and not-so-minor side effects such as abdominal bloating and diarrhea, cravings for real sugar, metabolic disorders, and cancer risks.
One such sweetener, erythritol, which is often used to add bulk to other sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk-fruit, or keto-based desserts, has been the subject of a recent concerning finding. A study published in Nature Medicine has reported on some increased association with blood clotting and cardiovascular disease. The study, which demonstrated association, but not causation, looked at both laboratory results and patient outcomes. Laboratory studies assessed erythritol’s effect on platelet activity, which showed a clear connection of higher levels of erythritol leading to “stickier” platelets, and thus higher chances of forming blood clots in the vascular system. The patient portion of the study showed that there was an association between higher blood levels of erythritol in patients who developed major adverse cardiovascular events than in those who did not.
Erythritol can also lead to anaphylaxis, or life-threatening allergic reactions, although this is rare. As this substance is rarely consumed as a stand-alone product, it is often quite difficult to assess the source of these allergic reactions.
The findings of this study on erythritol warrant more clarity on food labeling, especially on products labeled as “no added sugar”, “natural” or with “fruit” sweeteners. It is important for consumers to be aware of the risks associated with any food or beverage product, and to be aware of one’s own personal health history and risk factors.