What Is an Artificial Sweetener?

The term “artificial sweetener” refers to any substance other than sugar that stimulates your tastebuds to send a “sweet” message to the brain. The word “artificial” can be misleading: it includes sweeteners that are derived both naturally and chemically. They can be useful tools in limiting or reducing your sugar intake, but frequent use does have its side effects — no matter how “guilt free” their packaging might suggest they are.

The Cranial Insulin Response

Because they aren’t sugar (or, in some cases, because they have only trace amounts of it), artificial sweeteners have no or little effect on your blood glucose levels. But this does not mean that artificial sweeteners don’t produce an insulin response. In fact, the “sweet” message is often far sweeter than regular sugar. This hyper-sweetness detected by your brain — and later by taste receptors in your intestine and pancreas — can cause a bump in insulin production in anticipation of what your body expects to be sugar. This is called the “cranial insulin response.” If you have an elevated insulin response, keep this in mind when using artificial sweeteners.

Artificial Sweeteners as Useful Tools

Artificial sweeteners can be a great sugar substitute for the occasional treat. A celebration here and there with something sweet doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll kick yourself out of ketosis!

They can also be useful for weaning yourself off sugar. Quitting sugar cold-turkey is very difficult. It’s much easier to go from sugars to artificial sweeteners, then eventually to no sweets — but this requires care. In addition to the cranial insulin response, the hyper-sweetness also produces a stronger dopamine response in the brain. More dopamine, in turn, increases your cravings for sweets and makes it harder to resist the temptation of actual sugar.

If you want to use artificial sweeteners to help manage your sugar intake, let us know and we can help you develop a plan!