Artificial Sweeteners: Can you have your cake and eat it too?

  • By Alyssa Grams
  • 06 Jun, 2017
Credit to Gunilla G. Creative Commons.

If you live with diabetes, or you have recently been diagnosed, you understand how much of a struggle food can be. This is especially true when it comes to keeping track of your carbohydrate intake. Blood glucose levels can spike if you consume too many carbohydrates or sources of glucose in high amounts in one sitting. That means pie, chocolate, and those beloved brownies are better left off your plate, which can be disheartening for those of us with a sweet tooth.

Is there any possible way I can have my cake and eat it too?

The common answer? Yes, thanks to sugar substitutes called artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes, but may be derived from naturally occurring substances including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar.

The FDA has approved artificial sweeteners as a sugar substitute in healthy individuals and those living with diabetes. With the stamp of approval, a variety of sweeteners are on grocery store shelves in the form of tablets, quick dissolve pills, liquid drops, and the most popular: single-use sugar packets. The most popular brands of artificial sweetener include Sweet ‘N Low, Splenda, and Sugar Twin.

Other sugar substitutes include sugar alcohol-based products. Sugar alcohols are a family of sweetening agents that naturally occur in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, but are mainly manufactured for large scale commercial use.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular sugar substitutes for diabetics.

Product Profile

Brand Name


Ingredient List

Ingredient Profiles

Product Varieties

Sweet ‘N Low

Artificial Sweetener

For single use packets: saccharin

Saccharin is a non-nutritive sweetener that is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose and does not raise blood glucose levels. At high concentrations saccharin has a bitter or metallic taste.

Single use packets, liquid drops, tablets, and kosher


Artificial Sweetener

For single use packets: Sucralose, dextrose, and maltodextrin

Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sucrose. Dextrose and maltodextrin raise blood glucose levels .

Liquid sweetener, granulated, brown sugar blend, single packets, etc.

Sugar Twin

Artificial Sweetener

For single use packets: Dextrose, sodium, saccharin, and artificial flavour

Sodium saccharin is the solid form of saccharin. The acceptable daily amount is 5 mg per kilogram of body mass as approved by the FDA.

Single use packets, original granulated white

NOW Real Food Erythritol

 Sugar  Alcohol

 Pure Erythritol  Crystalline Powder

Erythritol occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes. It is only 50% to 70% as sweet as sucrose.

Granulated white

NOW Real Foods Xylitol

Sugar Alcohol

  Xylitol and Silica

Xylitol naturally occurs in fruit and vegetables. It has the same relative sweetness as sucrose (table sugar).

Granulated white, single use packets

Even though these products are thought of as generally safe for people who have diabetes, recent studies have indicated new health concerns surrounding artificial sweeteners.

The American Diabetes Foundation explains that artificial sweeteners may be a way to satisfy your sweet tooth and curb your cravings because most low-calorie sweeteners are much more intense than regular sugar, so you need only a small amount.

The case against artificial sweeteners comes from a variety of sources. The first concern arises from how artificial sweeteners affect the way you taste food. Artificial sweeteners are far sweetener than table sugar. This means that your sugar receptors are overstimulated if you frequently ingest artificial sweeteners, and you might be less likely to reach for those healthy, but not as sweet, fruits and vegetables.

If you're looking for a natural alternative to sweeteners, check out our post on Stevia.

Secondly, this study shows us that you’re at greater risk of type 2 diabetes by having a daily diet coke which uses artificial sweeteners. In fact, this study showed as much as a 67% greater risk of type 2 diabetes due to that pesky diet soda—so much for artificial sweeteners helping to prevent diabetes when they may actually be a contributing factor!

The final concern has to do with the balance of the microbiome in your gut. Microbiomes refer to the microorganisms living in a particular area—in this case, your digestive organs. Several recent health studies have focused on the microbiome, which may lead to new opportunities for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of a variety of human diseases! Research suggested that non-caloric artificial sweeteners create a glucose intolerance by altering the state of intestinal microbiota. The artificial sweeteners caused the bacteria to change their state, and these newly changed bacteria have been associated with type 2 diabetes.

The third and final concern is with the balance of the microbiome in your gut—how bacteria are impacted in your intestines. A study conducted by Dr. Eran Elinav suggested that non-caloric artificial sweeteners develop a glucose intolerance by altering the state of intestinal microbiota. Several of the bacteria that changed their state after ingesting non-caloric artificial sweeteners have been found to be associated with type 2 diabetes.

The Take(Cake)away

Although there may not be a consensus on the debate of artificial sweeteners, there are some precautions you can take if you use artificial sweeteners:

  • Talk to your physician or dietitian and establish a maximum daily consumption of artificial sweeteners appropriate for you.
  • Know that a minimal amount of sucrose—regular table sugar—is okay to consume for the average individual. Diabetes Canada recommends that no more than 10 per cent of your daily caloric intake come from sugar.
  • If frequent consumption of intensely sweet artificial sweeteners does affect how palatable less intensely sweet foods are to us, look for artificial sweeteners with a low or comparable relative sweetness to sucrose (regular table sugar). For example, if sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sucrose, and erythritol is only 50 to 70 times as sweet as sucrose, choose the latter as a sugar substitute.
  • Finally, if artificial sweeteners can negatively impact the balance of your microbiome, it may be beneficial for you to take a premium quality probiotic for your gut (always talk with your doctor or physician before adding any pill to your regimen).

Diabetes doesn’t mean a life without sweets! With our tips on artificial sweeteners, you can still have your cake and eat it too!


By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

University means a fresh start. You can put anything you want behind you, and instead look forward to who you want to become. Even if you aren’t moving away from home and you are entering your first year of university, many aspects of your life will still change.

It is important to remember that with the many changes university brings, your diabetes management may have to change too. A new living situation, new stressors, and new faces can cause your health to dip. But we have 3 tips to prepare you for living with diabetes in university.

By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

Protein is a source of endless debate. Some bodybuilders say if you’re trying to bulk up, it should be the bulk of everything you eat. Others say the power of protein is overestimated. How did we get so mixed up about a few amino acids?

The fact is, it’s an essential nutrient that keeps your body functioning well by building and repairing muscle, hormones and enzymes, as well as your skin, nails and hair. But obviously there’s some confusion so I offer this to you: a protein primer.

By Alyssa Grams 01 Aug, 2017
Article by Robyn Braun, PhD
By Alyssa Grams 25 Jul, 2017

One of the first projects funded by the Alberta Diabetes Foundation when it was founded in 1988 was the clinical research of Dr. Ray Rajotte, which it funded for 12 years. Dr. Rajotte pioneered the first-ever islet cell transplant, which was the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since the discovery of insulin. That work, plus an expanded islet cell transplant team and the addition of anti-rejection protocol, ended up becoming the international standard of care for islet cell transplantation.

Since 2000, when the protocol was developed, Alberta Diabetes Foundation has invested in a capital campaign to build the world-class building that now houses the Alberta Diabetes Institute. Since then, the Foundation has endeavoured to continue to invest in world-class research for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes right here in Alberta.

Alberta Diabetes Foundation works in tandem with the best-in-class Alberta Diabetes Institute to allocate funding where and when it is needed most, ensuring that important diabetes research and projects do not become stalled. The Alberta Diabetes Foundation is able to fund projects, even at early stages, often filling in gaps left by traditional granting organizations. The researchers in Alberta are confident that a world without diabetes is possible and, today they are doing more than providing sustainable solutions to treating diabetes -- our researchers are on their way to a cure.

By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Article compiled by Breanna Mroczek  with information from Dr. Mathew Estey, Clinical Chemist and Co-Director of Chemistry at DynaLIFE Medical Labs, and Dr. Christopher Naugler, Calgary Zone Clinical Department Head, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director
By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Post by Erika Brown
By Alyssa Grams 17 Jul, 2017


Imagine this. Recently you’ve noticed that your child hasn’t been acting quite like their usual self lately. You can’t quite pinpoint it, so you chalk it up to a rough week. But maybe that rough week turns into two.  You start to think on their behaviour more and you grow more concerned; they are always asking for extra water or juice at breakfast, they seem to be constantly hungry, they’re rushing off to the bathroom more frequently, and they are tired as soon as they step in the door from school.

Although these symptoms may seem common for children who may not have had a good night’s rest or for those going through puberty, that’s not always the case. These symptoms should be taken seriously, and if you notice these in your child for a prolonged period of time, you should discuss a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test with your doctor. An A1C test will determine your child’s average blood glucose level over the past 3 months. If your child’s A1C level is 6.5 or over, if could mean that they have Type 1 diabetes.


As a parent, your child’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be earth shattering for both you and your child. So many thoughts can go through a parent’s head; why does it have to be my child? How is my child going to live with this? How am I going to be able to give my child everything they need now that they have this condition?

Every parent and child will go through this journey in their own way, but it is important to know that Type 1 diabetes is a disease that can be managed, and proper management will allow your child to live a healthy life. As for the questions, you have as a parent, we would like to help by providing you with a few answers.

Why does my child have to be diagnosed with Type  1 diabetes? Where does Type 1 diabetes come from? What could wehave done as parents to prevent it?

Type 1 diabetes is not a preventable disease. It is a mixture of genes and environment. Although scientists do not know the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes , they do know that genes and environment play a role . They have figured out that individuals who have a certain type of HLA complex (human leukocyte antigen on chromosome 6) may be susceptible to Type 1 diabetes. This complex can create an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by a viral infection.

Simply put, when your body tries to fight the viral infection, it may also attack beta cells in your pancreas—cells that make insulin. This process usually takes several years before symptoms develop. The right combination of genes (HLA complex) and environment (exposure to a viral infection) can contribute to the onset of type 1 diabetes.

How is my child going to live with this condition?

Diabetes will be a day-to-day change in you and your child’s life. Your child will require insulin injections. You might even be required to administer insulin injections for your child depending on recommendations from the doctor. You will also want to revaluate the lifestyle that you and your child live. Focus primarily on the diet and exercise your child gets. And remember to stay on top of these few daily tasks you will need to complete:

  • Administering insulin
  • Monitoring blood glucose
  • Making sure that your child is eating a healthy, balanced diet with diabetic guidelines (incorporating things like carb counting can help to manage blood glucose levels)
  • Ensuring that your child is getting exercise on a daily basis (involving them in two sports can mean practice up to four days per week and games on weekends)

Although it may not happen everyday, your child will go through highs and lows with their diabetes. Both diabetic highs and lows are serious and can be life threatening

Symptoms of a diabetic high and low are:

  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision

Symptoms of a diabetic low also include:

  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Paleness
  • Shaking

You and your child’s first encounter with can be frightening. If you prepare yourself to know that symptoms and you are able to react accordingly, you can make your child feel safer in the earlier stages of this condition.

How am I going to be able to provide everything my child with everything they need to take this condition on?

The biggest change a parent can have on their child’s life is setting a great example. Your child relies on you and looks up to you. As a parent you should eat healthy, exercise, and take on proper responsibility for your own health. Your own accountability will benefit your child in the short-term and long-term. Additional support from friends and family will also help your child manage emotional and physical effects of the diabetes diagnosis. You may also consider joining a diabetes support group or participating in a run to fund diabetes research.

Advice from the following people can help ease the stress of your child’s diabetes:

  • An endocrinologist
  • A pharmacist
  • A nurse
  • A certified diabetes educator
  •  A registered dietitian
  •  An eye doctor
  • A dentist
  • A community of those who have children with Type 1 diabetes

As a parent, the best thing you can do for your child is simply to be there for them. Communicate with your child in a way that is supportive and will help to boost their self-esteem. Allowing your child to be open and honest with you will make treating diabetes that much easier.

No parent wants to see their children suffer. Remember that diabetes was not something that your child was marked for, and it isn’t your fault as a parent. As a family, you can work through this disease together, and put your child down a path of success.

By Alyssa Grams 10 Jul, 2017

Article by Breanna Mroczek. Photography by Darren Greenwood Photography.

By Carmen Johnson 04 Jul, 2017

You’ve seen the ads: “Cut out bananas and banish belly fat forever.” It seems like the world is going bananas over a simple piece of fruit.

It’s a bit strange. They’re almost identical in carbs to a delicious pear, but nobody seems to be preaching safe pear practice. So why do bananas get a bad rap? Why do people suddenly find them so un a-peel-ing?

Don’t be Split on Bananas

Many have tried to bruise the banana’s reputation by spreading the rumour that they’re loaded with carbs and sugar, instantly leading to weight gain and sending your blood sugars into a spiral. This is nothing more than a far-fetched fruit fallacy.

For one, at just 105 calories, a medium banana puts a mere 5% dent in a 2,000-calorie diet ( 1 ). Yes, bananas do contain starch and sugar, which does cause blood sugars to rise, but that doesn’t mean you should steer clear! First off, our bodies need carbs to function. Second, there is a world of difference between the sugar  in fruit and that found in pop, cake or candy. Unlike sweets, bananas are rich in naturally-occurring sugar, plus 3.5 grams of fibre and a ton of nutrients needed for good health.

Bet on Bananas

Fibre—like that found in bananas—is essential for weight and blood sugar management. It helps prevent overeating by making you feel full for longer. It also helps to slow the absorption of sugar. Just-ripe bananas and other carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and insulin levels ( 3 ).

Another boast for the banana is that it packs, on average, more than 400 milligrams of heart-healthy potassium . That’s almost 10% of your recommended daily intake! Potassium is vital for normal muscle, nerve and brain function and is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure .

Since many Canadians may not be getting enough potassium in their diet ( 2 ), bananas are a tasty way to up your daily dose

Go Bananas!

Still think bananas are to blame for all your weight woes? Here’s the truth: No one food is responsible for the number on the scale.

A diet high in fibre-rich fruits and vegetables —including bananas—is a key ingredient for a healthy body weight and reduced risk of chronic disease.

Bananas are a carbohydrate-rich food. If you're watching your blood sugars, be mindful of your portions. Otherwise, there's no monkey business when it comes to bananas. Unless you have been told to limit them by your doctor, there’s no reason to shun this simple fruit.

Some tasty tips to enjoy bananas:

  • Use mashed ripe bananas to boost the flavour and nutrition in your favourite muffin recipes.
  • Freeze overripe bananas for smoothies or baking.
  • Add chopped banana to your oatmeal while it’s cooking. This releases natural sugars so you can cut back on added sweeteners.
  • Roll up a banana with some protein-rich nut butter in a whole grain tortilla for an easy breakfast on the run.

For a healthy version of your favourite summer treat make sure to check out the Breakfast Banana Splits  recipe in the P ure Prairie Eating Plan   Cookbook.



1) Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Banana, raw . Accessed June 7, 2017 from

2) Health Canada, Food and Nutrition (2012). Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone? Accessed June 7, 2017 from

3) University of Sidney, Glycemic Index Database (2017). Banana, raw. Accessed June 7, 2017 from


By Alyssa Grams 04 Jul, 2017
Based on guidelines from Diabetes Canada. Illustration by Breanne Kelsey.
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