The Skinny on Stevia and Aspartame

The Skinny on Stevia and Aspartame

Judah Boulet

It is a known fact that large amounts of sugar has negative effects on the body, the most visual one being weight gain. Regardless if the sugar is normal white table sugar, sucrose, or high fructose corn syrup, large ingestion has been linked to high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, hypertension, and insulin resistance. One of the causes for these metabolic abnormalities is the effect of eating foods containing these sweeteners is their ability to spike insulin post meal consumption.

A healthier alternative, as it has been marketed to the general public, for those who want to lose weight, or control their weight, however, do not want to give up “sugary “ beverages, or sweets, has been the introduction of more and more foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, sucralose (Splenda), or others. Even though the FDA has cleared all artificial sweeteners as being safe for human consumption food sweeteners still are chemically synthesized, and this has led to an aversion of them by some consumers. The food industry now has an “all-natural” sweetener, Stevia, which many have raised on a pedestal as the golden ticket to allowing them to have their sweet, without the calories.

While many doctors and scientific researchers focus on glucose levels after consumption of foods as an indicator of a foods efficacy of prevention of weight gain, diabetes, etc., the focus should be on hormonal control. Hormones are the true control of weight gain, and overall health, when it comes to eating, and the key player is our friend insulin. If we control insulin levels, then we are better able to control weight gain, and prevent ourselves from insulin resistance, which, chronically leads to metabolic syndrome, and/or diabetes.

So what do insulin and artificial sweeteners have to do with one another? Stevia, along with all other artificial sweeteners, may not be the golden ticket they are marketed to be. This should come as no surprise. A recent study in the journal, Appetite, Anton, et. al., examined the effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. The study looked at both obese and non-obese test subjects who were given a sweetened snack (sucrose or an artificial sweetener) right before lunch and right before dinner. What they concluded was that by consuming stevia or aspartame there was a significant reduction in glucose levels after eating compared to sucrose. They also found a significant reduction in insulin levels after eating compared to BOTH aspartame and sucrose. They also showed that the subjects who ate foods sweetened with stevia and aspartame did not eat more food to compensate for calories not taken in. Interesting findings, or are they?

One of the issues with the conclusions is they compare both artificial sweeteners to sucrose and the conclusions are drawn strictly on this comparison.

I wish to examine each one more closely. The first comparison is a no-brainer. Of course there should be a reduction in glucose levels after eating in the artificial sweeteners subjects. Each artificial sweetener, Stevia, or Aspartame is not glucose. Those who eat sugar will see an increase here, those who don’t, shouldn’t.

The more important question is what did each of the artificial sweeteners do to insulin levels themselves? Well the figure from the paper below shows what each does, spike insulin levels. Compared to each other, there may be significant differences, however, each artificial sweetener elevates insulin levels, and if you notice, these elevated insulin levels continue for over two hours after eating. Pictures do not lie, and the researchers own data is a pretty astonishing picture! These findings are also consistent with a study reported in Metabolism in 2004 by Gregersen, et al, which showed that Stevia does not significantly alter insulin release after eating.

So what does this mean? Stay away from all artificial sweeteners, including all-natural Stevia. Diet soda is just as bad as regular soda. Diet foods are just as bad as high glycemic sugary foods. Sugar in your coffee does the same thing as artificial sweeteners in your coffee, your bodies hormonal response is not able to distinguish between sugar or any of the artificial sweeteners. The exact mechanisms why this occurs have not been shown however, you could reason that it is very similar to the conditioned response that Pavlov saw in his dog. Bell rang, dog salivated. Our tongues taste buds taste a sweet, and our bodies release insulin in anticipation to deal with that stimulus.

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21 Responses to “The Skinny on Stevia and Aspartame”
  1. Keidy

    I don’t see the picture, but I am interested in doing so… where can I find it? Good stuff.

  2. Phil

    I haven’t read any of these articles, but based on what you’ve said it looks like the artificial sweeteners were added to food, correct? Presumably a carbohydrate based food. Thus, the insulin spike was probably in response to the carbohydrate in the food. To say that the insulin spike was a result of the sweetner may not be accurate. A more appropriate study may be to compare insulin spikes after eating pure sucrose versus pure artificial sweeteners. If the insulin spike after eating a carbohydrate based food sweetened with aspartame is less than one sweetened with sucrose (as you suggest it is) then its still probably better to go with the artificial sweeteners, correct?

  3. judah

    Control group was straight sugar
    All groups spiked insulin. Stwvia and aspartame had no effect on blood glucose whereas sugar did.

  4. KC

    Are there research reports that show that artificial sweeteners do not cause insulin levels to significantly rise, like flour or sucrose would? I know someone who has diabetes and says it does not raise their blood sugar. However, flour will cause their blood sugar level to soar.

  5. Judah

    Blood sugar and insulin are too separate events. Flour and all carbohydrates, when absorbed into the bloodstream are done so as glucose, therefore blood glucose levels rise. The response to this is an insulin secretion.
    Artificial Sweeteners since they are not glucose, are not necessarily absorbed into the body, and do not cause an elevation of blood sugar, however, since they do stimulate taste bud receptors, the reflex mechanism of this is to secrete insulin. I am not sure of any in vitro studies of artificial sweeteners on pancreatic receptors, however the few studies I have seen which show this effect are all in vivo.

  6. Leon

    If knee jerk response by the body is insuline release to a sweet taste then NO product can be made that will result in weight loss as long as it tastes sweet? Basically if you want to controle insuline spikes + keep weight down, you can’t eat eat anything sweet. Doesn’t matter what it’s made of. Stimulate taste receptors that respond to sweet + insuline goes up?

  7. Andrew Gauthe

    I found this article and your conclusion to be quite fascinating. You had mentioned balanced hormone levels as away to prevent unhealthy weight gain and I was wondering if you could write about soy. As you may very well know products made from soybeans raise estrogen levels in both men and women and can contribute to higher levels of fatty tissue, cause problems with the thyroid gland, as well as other issues. If you could research this and come to a conclusion that would be great.

  8. Judah

    @ Leon- Basically, if it is marketed as weight loss, and it’s sweet, or its zero cal, it is going to spike insulin. The question is to what degree. There are times when insulin spikes are beneficial to the body, ie, post workout, but for all other times, it is good to have lower insulin levels. To keep weight down, low glycemic fruits, like organic berries and apples, non starchy veggies, etc.

    @ Andrew, peruse the article of the day for each day last week, there are 5 days of articles about how bad soy is.

  9. Ingrid

    Where’s the picture? Great article!

  10. josh

    Where’s the link to the article/study/pdf?

  11. Jason

    Why is that people keep asking for the link to the source and picture you mention but you wont provide it?

  12. George C.

    Stevia and aspartame is not even in the same category, stevia comes from a plant and is all natural, it is not artificial and is safe… aspartame( the king of artificial sweeteners) and is the worst… on the the other hand causes all types of disease’s, and can kill you if takin in large amounts…
    Aspartame—is the feces of Genetically modified Bacteria (E Coli)… dont believe me look it up…

  13. Judah

    Stevia will still spike your insulin, regardless if it is natural or not. Insulin levels matter. Stevia will still cause your body to believe it is getting calories which it is not, and will cause more hunger when those calories are received. Just because it is natural does not make it free to use. Not sure how natural chemically extracting a compound out of a leave is.

  14. Angelo

    According to a 2003 study published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,” stevia extracts are 250 times sweeter than sucrose, or normal table sugar; contain zero calories; and are noncarcinogenic. Stevia is not readily absorbed by your intestines, as most of it is excreted through your bowels, while only about 15 percent actually makes it into your bloodstream. Once in your blood, stevia is broken down by your liver and has an effect on your blood sugar, research suggests.

  15. Angelo

    According to a 2005 study published in the journal “Planta Medica,” stevia might have a positive effect on blood sugar and might be a viable alternative to regular sugar and other artificial sweeteners. Researchers found that stevia can lower blood sugar levels and increase glucose tolerance in diabetic animals by increasing insulin production and reducing insulin resistance, which might have human applications as well.

  16. Angelo

    According to the “Journal of Toxicological Sciences,” stevia showed no harmful effects on stomach, colon and liver DNA and cells. Stevia and stevia extract have shown no negative responses in multiple toxicological investigations.
    “Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise”; Mike Greenwood et al.; 2010
    Food and Drug Administration: GRAS Notice Inventory
    “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry”; “Metabolism of Stevioside and Rebaudioside A from Stevia Rebaudiana Extracts by Human Microflora”; C. Gardana et al.; September 2003
    “Planta Medica”; “Mechanism of the Hypoglycemic Effect of Stevioside, a Glycoside of Stevia Redbaudiana”; T.H. Chen et al.; February 2005
    “Nutrition for Health, Fitness and Sport”; Melvin Anthony; 2002
    “Journal of Toxicological Sciences”; “Genotoxicity Studies of Stevia Extract and Steviol by the Comet Assay”; K. Sekihashi et al.; December 2002

  17. Judah


    FIrst off, googling stevia and copying and pasting information from Livestrong is not showing a solid understanding of science. Without carefully examining the methods and results of a scientific journal article, from the full text paper, it is difficult to come to some conclusions.

    First off, all these are in animal models, and the extrapolation to humans needs be be carefully considered. We have cured cancer hundreds of times in mice, but yet, it is still a human ailment.

    Without access to these articles, and only reading the abstracts, I cannot comment on the validity of the research, but I can say that anything 250x sweeter than sugar is a problem. This distorts the human taste buds interpretation of what sweet is. Also, human cognition and response to different sensations is different than mice. the cognitive response to sweet also has implications to how the body responds physiologically.

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  21. Renee P

    I’m confused as to why Stevia is being referred to as an artificial sweetener?????

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