Very well played, The New York Times and Aaron E. Carroll. If you intended your recently published article, "The Evidence Supports Artificial Sweeteners Over Sugar," to get us hot and bothered, you succeeded.
"The available evidence points to the fact that there appears to be a correlation between sugar consumption and health problems; none can be detected with artificial sweeteners," Carroll writes.
While most of us wholeheartedly agree with Carroll's sugar stance, his blanket statement about artificial sweeteners encouraged me to hop on PubMed and do my own research.
Putting aside the copious animal research, Carroll craftily neglected a few pertinent human studies condemning artificial sweeteners.
One 2013 study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, found sucralose (Splenda) affects the body's responses to sugar (glucose). While it only involved 17 participants, the study clearly revealed artificial sweeteners aren't a free ride.
"Our results indicate that this artificial sweetener is not inert -- it does have an effect," study researcher M. Yanina Pepino, Ph.D., research assistant professor of medicine at the university, said in a statement. "And we need to do more studies to determine whether this observation means long-term use could be harmful."
Another study, this one in 2014 with 381 participants and published in Nature, found artificial sweeteners adversely changed gut bacteria's composition over time, potentially explaining why people become more glucose intolerant.
In a 2012 HuffPost blog, Monica Reinagel mentions that "researchers recently published findings from a study that tracked a very large group of people for over two decades. They found that men who drink more than one diet soda a day have an increased risk of blood-borne cancers like non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia -- although no association was found in women."
Based on that and other research, Carroll's blanket conclusion seems inaccurate and misleading. "There's a potential, and probably real, harm from consuming added sugars; there are most likely none from artificial sweeteners," he writes.
Well, only if you don't consider things like gut bacteria imbalances, glucose intolerance, and increased cancer risk potential and real harms.
Not surprisingly, Carroll created a media uproar over his stance, which was likely The New York Times' intention publishing the blog. (They've published blogs in the past criticizing artificial sweeteners.)
Like arguing GMOs maybe aren't so bad after all, taking a pro-artificial sweetener stance guarantees nutrition experts will become riled up. As I write, the Times piece carries 331 comments, and I've seen countless rebuttals on my social media.
While their capacity for harm might be debated and studies seem inconclusive, almost no one argues artificial sweeteners can benefit your health, and many experts including Dr. Mark Hyman believe even very small amounts can be harmful.
"More substantial evidence has been uncovered about the harms of artificial sweeteners in the last five years than ever before," Dr. David Samadi recently wrote.
For condemning sugar, Carroll should be commended. For overlooking legitimate criticism about artificial sweeteners, he should do a PubMed search and modify his evidence accordingly.
Are nutrition experts making much ado over nothing criticizing artificial sweeteners? Should we focus entirely on added sugars and stop fighting "lesser evils"? I want to hear your thoughts below.