Artificially Sweetened Drinks May Support People Trying to Reduce Diabetes Risk

Juice at the grocery store.

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Key Takeaways

  • Too many added sugars in your diet can be detrimental to your health.
  • New data shows that drinks that include alternative sweeteners can help support people trying to lose weight who are at risk or have diabetes.
  • While water should be the top drink of choice, it can be helpful to have options.

Research has previously shown that including too many added sugars in your diet can lead to some negative health outcomes, including increased risk for conditions like diabetes. Sugary drinks can often be the culprit behind these added sugars in people's diets.

But whether replacing those drinks with lower calorie options that include alternative sweeteners, like diet soda, is a viable option for people at risk of diabetes and other conditions remains a point of contention.

“There is a history of observational data correlating consumptions [of certain alternative sweeteners] with health risks including obesity and adiposity-based disease including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,” Karl Nadolsky, DO, director of the Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolic Institute in Maryland, told Verywell. 

Yet, he emphasized that while there are plausible concerns about the effects of artificial sweeteners, they can be helpful in replacing high sugar beverages. This is especially true for people struggling with their weight or chronic diseases like diabetes.

What Are Sugar Alternatives?

In the U.S. and worldwide, sugar is a popular addition to many of our dishes and snacks. And while sugar in moderation can be part of a healthy diet, most Americans are consuming far more than the recommended amount.

This is where sugar alternatives can help. Sugar alternatives can offer the sweetness of sucrose (table sugar), but with very few calories or are calorie-free. These alternatives can be naturally-occurring (like stevia) or synthetically created (like aspartame). But these sugar alternatives have been linked to health problems, too.

Most recently, data published in JAMA Open Network supports this. Specifically, a new study review showed that, over the moderate term, low and no-calorie sweetened beverages were associated with small reductions in weight and lower risk of health problems like heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Can Alternative Sweeteners Be an Option?

Previous research shows that swapping out your sugar-sweetened drink (like regular soda) for water can result in weight loss.

While water should be your top beverage of choice, having other beverage options that offer a sweet taste with no calories can appeal to people who want a little variety. 

Researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine whether drinks made with sugar alternatives can be a viable choice for people at risk for diabetes who are trying to lose weight. To conduct this analysis, researchers utilized 17 randomized clinical trials that had asked people to use beverages with alternative sweeteners. They looked at whether there was evidence that using these beverages was linked to health outcomes like weight loss and a lower risk of health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.

“Only trials that were at least two weeks in duration (median follow-up was 12 weeks) with low or no-calorie sweetened beverages, sugar-sweetened beverages, and/or water with cardiometabolic risk factors were included,” Néma McGlynn, MSc, RD, registered dietitian and principal author of the study, told Verywell.

She added that they included studies that investigated the substitution of:

  • Low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Water for sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages for water

Results showed that substituting sugar-sweetened beverages with sugar alternatives was associated with reduced body weight, body mass index (BMI), percentage of body fat, and liver fat levels.

“The small improvements seen with low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages are similar to those associated with water for sugar-sweetened beverages,” McGlynn explained. "The evidence supports the use of low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages over the moderate term as an alternative replacement strategy for sugar-sweetened beverages in adults with overweight or obesity who are at risk for or have diabetes.”

So, for people who are trying to lose weight to reduce their diabetes risk, it appears that “low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages is one tool that can be considered as part of an overall treatment plan to help people with weight loss or managing diabetes,” McGlynn added.

What This Means For You

Your main beverage should always be water. But if you're worried about the added sugars in your diet, and tend to gravitate toward sugary beverages, you can try some drinks with alternative sweeteners. The key is drinking these beverages in moderation.

Other Ways to Reduce Your Added Sugars

Along with choosing drinks like water or low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages, there are other ways to satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing added sugars, including:

  • Using fruit, like dates and 100% orange juice, as a sweetener in recipes instead of sugar
  • Saving sweet treats for special occasions
  • Being mindful of proper portion sizes when enjoying foods with added sugars
  • Avoiding hidden sources of added sugars, like many jarred pasta sauces
  • Limiting the use of fat-free condiments that may have more added sugars than full-fat choices (like fat-free salad dressings)
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?

  3. Tandel K. Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefitsJournal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 2011;2(4):236. doi:10.4103/0976-500x.85936

  4. McGlynn ND, Khan TA, Wang L, et al. Association of low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages as a replacement for sugar-sweetened beverages with body weight and cardiometabolic risk: A systematic review and meta-analysisJAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(3). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.2092

  5. Duffey KJ, Poti J. Modeling the effect of replacing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption with water on energy intake, HBI score, and obesity prevalence. Nutrients. 2016;8(7):395. doi:10.3390/nu8070395