Does Your Protein Powder Contain Harmful Artificial Sweeteners?

As a strength or endurance athlete, you probably include some type of protein powder in your diet regimen. Protein is the main building blocks of the human body. It plays vital roles in various functions of the body including the formation of skin, tendons, enzymes, hormones and various other molecules. Protein also happens to be the building blocks of your muscles. There is no doubt that protein plays a significant role in the body, which is why protein powders have become so popular amongst athletes. Studies have shown that utilizing protein powder can enhance recovery, help gain muscle mass, increase strength, and decrease body fat [1].

Artificial Sweetener

There is no denying that your choices are endless when it comes to protein powders. Not only is there a number of different brands to chose from, there are also different types of specialty protein powders, and numerous flavors. The most popular protein powders are made up of only the best ingredients focused on rapid absorption for refueling your muscles, clean ingredients, and a formula that is scientifically created to pack on more muscle and build more strength. Often times these protein powders are marketed as pure protein. However most of your favorite protein powders or even “the best” rated protein powders fail when it comes to providing you pure, additive free powders.

Artificial sweeteners are used in most if not all of the top protein powders. Artificial sweeteners are often added to of course make the powder taste better. However the artificial sweeteners used in protein powders are not as healthy as you may think they are. In fact the most popular artificial sweeteners used to sweeten your protein powders may have negative effects on your athletic performance and your health. The two most commonly used artificial sweeteners used in popular protein powders include sucralose and acesulfame potassium.This article will discuss the potential harmful effects of these artificial sweeteners and the popular protein powders that use them.

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS?

Found in nearly every type of food, artificial sweeteners are ubiquitous. Used as a sugar alternative, artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes, which are derived from natural substances including herbs and sugar itself [2]. Artificial sweeteners have become attractive to many due to its intense sweetness. A fraction of an artificial sweetener can be used to achieve the same amount of sweetness from regular sugar, decreasing caloric intake. For years artificial sweeteners have been marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar providing zero calories, and numerous health benefits. For this reason artificial sweeteners have infiltrated our food system. The idea of consuming something sweet and delicious with nearly no guilt attached due to the zero calorie promise has created a phenomenon for nearly all to jump on the artificial sweetener bandwagon.

Artificial Sweetener

However, the health claims of artificial sweeteners are once again too good to be true. According to a group of dietitians from the Cleveland Clinic, artificial sweeteners were ranked as the worst type of sweetener. Studies have shown that sugar substitutes including artificial sweeteners may increase cravings toward sugary and sweet foods. Studies have also linked artificial sweeteners to a higher risk of glucose intolerance, which is a precursor for pre-diabetes and diabetes. Several epidemiological studies have also showed a positive correlation between artificial sweeteners and weight gain [3].  Experimental studies have also found that artificial sweeteners actually enhance appetite, increasing cravings, binging, and feelings of withdrawal [3].

Artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the brain the same way as natural sweeteners do. This leads to a lack of complete satisfaction from food, inherently increasing cravings for sweetness, and desiring additional energy from food. Additional studies have found that artificial sweeteners can increase insulin resistance, which is especially harmful for those who are at risk of developing diabetes [4]. According to Harvard Health, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may actually increase the risk of developing diseases such as metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, and type 2 diabetes, the very diseases that these artificial sweeteners are marketed as helping in the first place.

Many popular protein powders contain artificial sweeteners in order to maintain a low caloric count as well as provide taste. It’s true; no one likes a nasty tasting protein powder. However, understanding the potential health affects that artificial sweeteners may have on your health and athletic performance is important. The following artificial sweeteners are found in the top protein powders.

SUCRALOSE (SPLENDA)

Sucralose is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. The most popular sucralose product is Splenda. Sucralose is derived from sucrose in a multi-step chemical process. Though sucralose itself does not have any calories, Splenda is a combination of sucralose, maltodextrin and dextrose increasing the calorie count to 3.36 calories per gram [5]. Sucralose is about 400-700 times sweeter than sugar is [6]. Studies have shown that sucralose may increase blood sugar and insulin levels, especially in individuals who do not consume artificial sweeteners regularly. It is also important to note that sucralose at high temperatures can break down and generate harmful substances, increasing your risk for developing cancer [7]. Though more studies are needed, animal studies have also shown a link between sucralose causing negative effects on the bacterial environment in the gut [8].

Popular protein powders that contain Sucralose 

  • MuscleTech NitroTech Pure Whey Protein
  • Nitro Tech 100% Whey Gold
  • Gold Standard Whey 100% Whey
  • PRO JYM
  • ISO 100%
  • Syntha 6
  • Combat Protein Powder
  • COR Performance Whey

ACESULFAME POTASSIUM

Artificial Sweetener

Also known as acesulfame K or Ace-K, this calorie-free sweetener is found in many sugar-free products. It is around 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar. This sweetener is often blended with sucralose. The FDA notes that it can also be labeled as Sunnett, or Sweet One. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, more research needs to be done to test the safety of this artificial sweetener. Research has found a link between acesulfame potassium and cancer [9]. This artificial sweetener has also been linked to thyroid damage, and harmful changes in brain function [10]. 

Popular protein powders that contain acesulfame potassium

  • MuscleTech NitroTech Pure Whey Protein
  • NitroTech 100% Whey Gold
  • Gold Standard Whey 100% Whey
  • PRO JYM
  • Syntha 6
  • Combat Protein Powder
  • COR-Performance Whey

BETTER ALTERNATIVES?

Low Calorie Natural Sweeteners

  • Stevia
  • Lo Han Fruit Extract

High Calorie Natural Sweeteners

  • Honey
  • Fruit
  • Yacon Syrup
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Maple Syrup

True natural sweeteners are the best way to sweeten protein powders and other foods. What is a true natural sweetener? Though the exact definition of what a natural sweetener is, is unclear, the purest and healthiest natural sweetener is fruit. The best way to sweeten things up is to use fresh or frozen fruit. Why fruit? Well, fruit is a natural sweetener without any empty calories. Fruit not only provides sweetness and flavor, it also provides nutritional benefits such as phytonutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Fruits are low in the glycemic index, and are nutrient dense. The best fruits to use as sweeteners include bananas, melon, mangos, apples, and berries. These fruits are sweet enough to satiate your taste buds, while still providing loads of nutrients. Adding spices and other natural flavors such as cinnamon, cocoa powder, vanilla and almond extract will also enhance the taste of your drink or meal.

You may be wondering about other natural sweeteners such as honey, yacon syrup, coconut sugar, molasses, and maple syrup. These sweeteners are great, however when it is digested in the body they are broken down to the same molecules as regular table sugar. Unfortunately your liver can’t tell if it is metabolizing regular table sugar or coconut sugar. Natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar and yacon syrup contains some additional nutrients and has shown that it may help with glucose control, weight loss, and digestive issues [13]. However more studies need to be done to validate these claims and long-term health effects. The best advice for these natural sweeteners is moderation.

Finally, other natural low calorie sweeteners such as Stevia and Lo Han Fruit Extract combine the best of both worlds, sweetness from edible food sources without the added calories from sugar. These are the natural sweeteners that we choose to use in our products in order to meet your macro requirements while still offering all natural options.

BOTTOM LINE

Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may drive metabolic dysregulation, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, digestive problems, and alter gut microbiota. It is important to understand the potential effects of these commonly used artificial sweeteners before you include them in your everyday diet. With all artificial sweeteners, the long-term health effects are unknown.

The best sweetener remains to be fruit, as long as you don't mind extra calories. Not only does it provide additional nutrients and health benefits, but it also satisfies your taste buds using naturally occurring sugars that your body is designed to digest. And if using fresh fruit is unfeasible, the next best natural sweetener is Stevia or Lo Han Fruit Extract, especially if you're looking for a low calorie natural option. 

REFERENCES

  1. Hulmi, J. J., Lockwood, C. M., & Stout, J. R. (2010). Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & Metabolism,7(1), 51. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-51
  2. Pros and cons of artificial sweeteners. (2018, September 25). Retrieved January 31, 2019, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936
  3. Yang Q. (2010). Gain weight by "going diet?" Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. The Yale journal of biology and medicine83(2), 101-8.
  4. Production Assistant, D. I. (2016, December 03). Non-nutritive Sweeteners Can Increase Insulin Resistance In Those Who Are Obese. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/non-nutritive-sweeteners-can-increase-insulin-resistance-in-those-who-are-obese/
  5. USDA Food Composition Databases. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
  6. Wiet, S. G., & Beyts, P. K. (2006, August 26). Sensory Characteristics of Sucralose and other High Intensity Sweeteners. Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1992.tb14345.x
  7. Schiffman, S. S., & Rother, K. I. (2013). Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview Of Biological Issues. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B,16(7), 399-451. doi:10.1080/10937404.2013.842523
  8. West, C., Renz, H., Jenmalm, M., Kozyrskyj, A., Allen, K., & Prescott, S. (2015). The gut microbiota and inflammatory noncommunicable diseases: Associations and potentials for gut microbiota therapies. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,135(1), 14. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2014.11.014
  9. Karstadt, M. L. (2006). Testing Needed for Acesulfame Potassium, an Artificial Sweetener. Environmental Health Perspectives,114(9). doi:10.1289/ehp.114-a516a
  10. Cong, W., Wang, R., Cai, H., Daimon, C. M., Scheibye-Knudsen, M., Bohr, V. A., . . . Martin, B. (2013). Long-Term Artificial Sweetener Acesulfame Potassium Treatment Alters Neurometabolic Functions in C57BL/6J Mice. PLoS ONE,8(8). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070257
  11. Office of the Commissioner. (n.d.). FDA Basics - Has Stevia been approved by FDA to be used as a sweetener? Retrieved January 31, 2019, from https://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/transparency/basics/ucm194320.htm
  12. Hiele, M., Ghoos, Y., Rutgeerts, P., & Vantrappen, G. (1993). Metabolism of erythritol in humans: Comparison with glucose and lactitol. British Journal of Nutrition,69(01), 169. doi:10.1079/bjn19930019
  13. Yan, X., Suzuki, M., Ohnishi-Kameyama M, M., Sada, Y., Nakanishi, T., & Nagata, T. (1999). Extraction and identification of antioxidants in the roots of yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius). Journal of Agriculture Food Chemistry,47(11).


1 comment


  • Nathan Pitts

    Wow 😮 i never knew. This probably saved my life.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published