Diabetes From Sweeteners?

Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve discussed concerns that have been raised over both sugar and zero-calorie sweeteners. Sugar, in particular, has been implicated in chemical processes within the body that may lead to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome — the commonly seen combination of insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, and abnormal blood lipid levels that increases a persons risk of Type 2 diabetes. But it turns out that high-fructose corn syrup and zero-calorie sweeteners may be even worse choices when it comes to the risk of developing Type 2.


The most recent study on the topic, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined correlations between intake of both sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages and development of Type 2 diabetes among more than 66,000 French women. Compared with women who did not regularly consume soft drinks, those in the top quarter of beverage consumption — the ones who drank more than 359 milliliters (about 12 ounces) of sugar-sweetened or more than 603 milliliters (about 20 ounces) of artificially sweetened beverages per week — had a significantly higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes during the study’s 14-year follow-up: 1.34 times higher for sugar-sweetened and 2.21 times higher for artificially sweetened beverages. Even among the 75% of participants who consumed soft drinks less frequently, there was a correlation between a higher level of consumption and development of diabetes. According to a Mail Online (UK) article on the study, drinking up to 500 milliliters (about 17 ounces) per week of artificially sweetened soft drinks resulted in a 15% increase in the risk of diabetes, while taking in more than 1.5 liters (about 51 ounces) per week resulted in a 60% increase in risk. In contrast, there was no correlation between fruit juice consumption and development of diabetes.

The evidence against high-fructose corn syrup in beverages is less substantial than that against either sugar or artificial sweeteners — after all, high-fructose corn syrup is chemically very similar to sugar, so studies often look at sugar- and high-fructose-corn-syrup-sweetened beverages together as one category. Nevertheless, according to an article published last week in the Los Angeles Times, the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging it to limit the amount of high-fructose corn syrup that can be put in beverages. The group claims that the associated risk of obesity makes high-fructose corn syrup unsafe for consumption at levels currently found in soft drinks. There is some evidence that high-fructose corn syrup may be worse than sugar when it comes to causing diabetes. As reported in a separate Los Angeles Times article, a study published last fall found that the average rate of Type 2 diabetes in countries with the highest levels of high-fructose corn syrup consumption was 8%, while the average rate in the countries with the lowest levels of consumption was 6.7% — even after accounting for differences in average body-mass index, population, and gross domestic product (GDP) between countries.

What do you think — does the evidence speak strongly against artificially sweetened beverages, or those containing high-fructose corn syrup? What kinds of sweetened beverages do you consume or avoid? If all sweetened beverages are bad for you, should it matter to the FDA that some might be worse than others? How much of a risk, and of what type, should an ingredient pose for it to be regulated or banned in food products? Leave a comment below!

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  • hank (papa)

    What the Heck is a diabetic to drink and eat.
    I am down to flavored Seltzer as a thirst quencher.
    I sounds like any thing sweet is BAD!
    Anything fat is bad.
    Most meats are bad.
    Just me and my plain brown rice. Oh well I’ll probably die soon anyway.

  • Deb

    I drink only water and vegetable juice with no sweeteners, and avoid all artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. I used to drink lots of sodas with HFCS before I became diabetic, and I believe it was one of the major factors. Also my pain levels have gone down since I stopped using HFCS-containing products. I am very happy that a number of food processors have returned to using sugar instead in things like salad dressings. I can count the carbs and know that I am not getting a highly processed artificial sweetener the manufacturers have been trying to pass off as just another kind of sugar.

  • zenaxe

    With respect to artificial sweeteners:

    This correlation, especially with regard to artificial sweeteners sounds incredibly questionable. Unless general carbohydrate intake was controlled in the participants diet or they were normalized somehow (highly unlikely based on the above) there is no way to know if the artificial sweetener had anything to do with the person’s diabetes risk or not because there are way too many other uncontrolled variables in the study.

    There very well may be some correlation with people who use artificial sweeteners and excessive eating or weight gain. But it is probably just that: correlation, not causation.

    So big whoop, these researchers have discovered yet another non-causal statistical trend between diabetics and lifestyle. Unless they can identify a very specific biological mechanism at work this study reeks of speculation and data mining rather than identification of a causal pathway… So yeah it is interesting but it hardly warrants anything beyond identifying yet another thing that might be studied further for actual biological links/mechanisms.

    In general, it would not shock me one bit to find that people who were using artificial sweeteners had higher rates of other lifestyle issues that have a more causal relationship to diabetes. Example: many might be doing so because they already had developed a weight problem (due to consuming high sugar and HFCS beverages among other things in the past).

    I know this has been the case for me. I switched to diet drinks because non-diet drinks were causing me to GAIN weight. Once I was overweight and switched to diet drinks they DID help me maintain my weight and helped me stopped gaining but I was still consuming way too many carbs and by then I was already overweight and the calorie reduction from the beverages alone was not enough for me to maintain a healthy weight. THOSE things probably caused me to develop diabetes (weight and a high carbohydrate diet).

    Now that I have diabetes and have gotten down to a healthy weight, artificial sweeteners have ZERO effect on my blood sugar numbers.

    People, scientists included, need to remember the differences between a statistical correlation and causation and the importance of controlling other variables in the study.

    As for the FDA. I do not blame anyone other than myself for being overweight previously. I consumed high calorie beverages knowing darn well they were not good for me. It was my fault. I knew how many empty calories they had. I was addicted to bad food and drinks but that is my own fault.

    I do not want someone else baby sitting for me. I will deal with the fallout from my poor lifestyle myself and do not expect the government to babysit me.

  • William Looft

    If artificial sweeteners are as bad as the report states, then why did the teaching hospital I recently spent nine days in offer them as alternatives to sugar?

    Is there a definitive answer as to what, if anything, is acceptable as a sweetener for Type II diabetics?

  • jim snell

    Great for Zenaxe – loading and blasting on the ruckus over artificial sweetners.

    Too many calories will kill one faster than artificial sweetners. Some folks need to get a life.

    Since what causes Type 2 diabetes and how really to stop it has not been fully answered nor understood, random cheap shots at artificial sweetners, and other items are premature, slight of hand tricks using statistics and its analysis and simply only provides possible targets to do real research on the problem at hand.

    Lets move on!

  • Terri

    I don’t think artificial sweeteners “cause” diabetes. They have no carbs and do not raise blood sugars so do not tax the pancreas. Did any of these participants happen to wear black shoes?Maybe wearing black shoes causes diabetes too. Because someone uses a product and later has diabetes does mean there is a causal effect. Often people who use artificial sweeteners are those who have bad weight problems and have been eating or drinking a lot of bad things full of sugar, starch, etc and then think using artificially sweetened sodas make up for it. There are a lot of factors and hey- I drink water and I have diabetes so according to this reason, I caused it by being a water drinker.

  • Bob

    I intend to continue to enjoy drinks and other products containing artificial sweeteners. I enjoy them and the ones I drink contain no sodium, no calories and no caffeine. Sorry, but I reject the apparent idea that if something taste good it should not be consumed. The people who were drinking artificially sweetened drinks in this study were likely already overweight from a diet too high in calories and drinking the diet drinks to save a few calories, but still eating too much to actually lose weight. Overweight contributed to their diabetes. I have had diabetes for over 25 years. Too much sugar will kill me, artificial sweeteners won’t…or at least they haven’t yet, and I am a healthier than average 69 year old.

  • Kate

    My husband was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.He was drinking most days as well as that big a cup of coffee with creamers one or two 44 ounce cups filled with ice and diet drinks while trucking. He had a very bad diet of fastfood resturants and over indulging at buffets and eating bags of cookies at a time to keep awake. It all contributed. He has lost weight and his blood sugar is normal now. He is continuing to lose. We believe God can forgive our abuse of our bodies and heal his pancreas. We are believing to soon get off all medicine for diabetes. This does not mean that he can ever go back to that life style. He doesn’t even want to knowing the consequences. He accepts that he did this to himself and is now responsible. He may have 1 or 2 diet drinks a month. There has to be some pleasures left in the eating department. I am experimenting with ways to lower the glycemic index of foods for him. I found a way to make a high fiber no sugar pumpkin bread except for a thin glaze of home made cream cheese icing. It did not raise his blood sugar. Of course that is not a daily staple. It is challenging as the care taker to learn what works and still give healthy tasty meals to my husband. I am glad it was found and can be dealt with. We have both had super
    natural healings from the Lord. Don’t count Him out of you health plan if you are a believer. Many churches these days have healing rooms.Expand your faith and give Him a try. He healed me of cancer and supernaturally removed a lump from the other breast and 3 lesions elsewhere all went during prayer at our former church.Blessings and best wishes in your journey towards excellent health.

  • Barbara Edwards

    I, too, totally agree with Zenaxe. I see a correlation betweens the two events but not a causal relationship. In these studies, in order for them to be both valid and reliable, all factors need to be equalized – diet, exercise, weights, etc.

  • William Looft

    Thank you, Xenaxe, for that informative post.

    Sensationalism might gain headlines, but the facts speak for themselves.