Artificial sweeteners have long been touted as an excellent alternative to pure sugar, especially by those with diabetes and obesity. However, despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval, sweeteners aren’t exactly all they’re cracked up to be — especially erythritol, which recent studies have linked to potential heart complications.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, a person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular problems — 697,000 died from heart disease in 2020. Unhealthy eating habits, diabetes, obesity and other factors all contribute to heart attacks and the development of various heart conditions.
Could erythritol and other artificial sweeteners be to blame for cardiovascular events — and should you panic if you’ve been consuming them?
The Study: Erythritol and Heart Complications
What sweeteners are linked to heart disease? It may be something you’ve wondered about while grocery shopping. Past clinical trials have shown that artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium (K) and sucralose are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, among other conditions.
Now, researchers could deliver another blow to those who’ve used erythritol, often found in various ketogenic products or to enhance the sweetness of other sweeteners — it’s nearly 70% as sweet as natural sugar and derived from corn.
For example, people on ketogenic diets must restrict sugar for three to four days for the body to burn fat. However, dieters may not realize that replacing natural sugar with an artificial sweetener could harm them in the long run.
The new study found that people with existing heart disease and erythritol content in their blood are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Blood platelets create clots to prevent bleeding when our blood vessels are damaged. The platelets then move toward the injury as the vessel captures them to make a plug.
As the study’s lead author Dr. Stanley Hazen explains, a blood clot’s size depends on how many platelet cells are triggered — a 10% trigger will stimulate 10% of clotting. Yet, the research team uncovered that a 10% trigger might form about 90%-100% of the clot when erythritol is present, posing a significant risk for cardiovascular events in susceptible patients.
The findings may be alarming to those who’ve used erythritol, thinking it was safe. Fortunately, stopping its use could play into better heart health.
Which Sweeteners Should Be Avoided Besides Erythritol?
Sugar consumption is a severe problem in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 77 grams of sugar daily — three times higher than women’s recommended 25-gram intake. Men should have no more than 36 grams.
Sadly, sugar is everywhere. Starbucks fans may be shocked to learn that a grande vanilla latte has 35 grams of sugar while a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino contains 55 grams.
Since the FDA has approved several artificial sweeteners, many people believe they’re the best alternative to the real thing. Yet some products could lead to various health problems, raising the question of which sweeteners should be avoided.
You may recognize some of the following artificial sweeteners:
- Aspartame: NutraSweet and Equal
- Saccharin: Sweet’N Low
- Sucralose: Splenda
- Acesulfame K: Sunett and Sweet One
One study suggests that some sweeteners — acesulfame K, saccharin and sucralose — may reach the large bowels and compromise the gut microbiota.
Other epidemiological studies have investigated an increased risk of breast cancer and obesity-induced cancers, mainly due to aspartame and acesulfame K.
Natural Sweeteners for Better Health
Always read the ingredients if you want to reduce or eliminate artificial sweeteners from your diet. Artificial sweeteners are usually hidden in products labeled “low sugar” or “sugar-free.”
For example, International Delight excited consumers when it released its product line of sugar-free creamers, including French vanilla, caramel macchiato and hazelnut flavors. However, take a closer look at the International Delight Zero-Sugar French Vanilla creamer, and you’ll see sucralose in the ingredients to ensure its sweetness. Diet soda, yogurt, pudding, protein powders and energy drinks also often contain artificial sweeteners.
If you want to eliminate potentially harmful sweeteners that cause heart complications and other conditions, substituting natural sweeteners other than pure sugar is better for you.
Honey contains ample sweetness with antimicrobial properties to fight off colds and sore throats. Other natural sweeteners include the following:
- Maple syrup
- Agave syrup
- Date syrup
- Balsamic glaze
- Coconut sugar
- Banana puree
- Real fruit jam
Stevia is also an option for you — you may recognize brands like Truvia and PureVia at the supermarket. However, refined stevia is 250-300 times sweeter than white table sugar, so start with a small amount and add more as necessary.
Begin swapping sugar and artificial sweeteners for some of these alternatives to maintain a healthier heart and body. Of course, it’s important to remember that just because these sweeteners are natural, you must still consume them in moderation. Too much natural sugar can still increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart complications.
Eliminating Artificial Sweeteners Could Help You Avoid Heart Complications
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. While some people may be disappointed to learn about erythritol’s effect on the heart, eliminating artificial sweeteners from your diet could improve your health, especially if you’re predisposed or have existing cardiovascular disease. Revamping your lifestyle to something more heart-friendly overall is the best way to avoid heart complications.