Why Do Sweeteners Make Me Bloat?

Why Do Sweeteners Make Me Bloat?

Artificial sweeteners are used as a low-calorie or calorie-free alternative to sugar. They are just as sweet, if not sweeter, than traditional sugar, so they still provide the same delicious taste without the calories.

However, although they may be beneficial for calorie reduction and weight loss, many people experience the side of effect of bloating when they make the switch from sugar to sweeteners. This is a common side effect that hits many people unexpectedly when they start taking sweeteners in their diet.

 In this article, I am going to cover what sweeteners are, how they can negatively impact the gut, which sweeteners are gut friendly, and how to relieve bloating caused by artificial sweeteners.

What Are Sweeteners?

Sweeteners are a great alternative to sugar when you’re searching for a lower-calorie or no-calorie option. You’ve probably heard of things like stevia, agave syrup, and monk fruit sweeteners, or you may consume them yourself.

Some sweeteners are natural, whilst others are manmade. Natural sweeteners like agave syrup and monk fruit sweetener (sometimes called monk fruit sugar) tend to be much gentler on the digestive system and much easier to break down than artificial alternatives like aspartame, sucralose, xylitol, and saccharin. 

In this article, I’m going to focus more on artificial sweeteners, which are the synthetic (man-made) alternatives to traditional sugars that are widely used in the food and drink industry to enhance the sweetness and palatability of various products. These sweeteners will be in a significant number of foods that you come across in the supermarket, and they’re often ‘hidden’ in unexpected pre-packaged foods and snacks.

They are lower in calories than sugars like glucose and fructose, but still provide the same sweet taste, making them ideal as a sugar substitute if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, many sweeteners (such as aspartame) are several times sweeter than sugar, so you only need them in very small amounts to achieve the same taste as granulated sugar.

Artificial sweeteners include aspartame, isomalt, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol. They are non-caloric, hydrogenated starches and are obtained from plants, plant extracts, or vegetables. Some sweeteners, such as erythritol, require microorganisms to produce.

How Do Sweeteners Negatively Impact the Gut?

All artificial sweeteners must undergo rigorous testing to be approved for use in the European Union (EU). However, not all artificial sweeteners are approved because they have potential adverse effects.

One of the common issues associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners is poor digestive health. Many sweeteners can cause excess gas production in the gut, causing bloating and abdominal discomfort.

There are many reasons why sweeteners can negatively impact your gut if you consume them too much or respond negatively to them due to your unique physiology and metabolism. Here is how artificial sweeteners can cause gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, and poor overall digestive health.

Gut dysbiosis

Sweeteners can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in your colon. Sweeteners can fuel the potentially harmful bacteria and reduce the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. 

The research shows that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are artificial sweeteners that can be particularly harmful to the gut microbiome. However, it’s important to note that most of the research on this subject is on animals, so take the results with a pinch of salt! Humans are very different to animals, so we can’t assume that our guts will respond in the same way as rats or mice.

More fermentation (and gas production)

The gastrointestinal tract doesn’t fully metabolise polyol sweeteners (sugar alcohols), such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. Polyols, therefore, pass into the colon, still partially intact.

The bacteria in your lower gut start to ferment these sugar alcohols into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and gases (hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane). Consuming a lot of polyols can increase fermentation and associated gas production, causing increased flatulence and bloating.

Increased release of hunger hormones

Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can stimulate the release of hunger hormones like ghrelin. More ghrelin means more cravings, and this may cause you to eat more than you need and gain weight. 

Increased inflammation

Certain artificial sweeteners can stimulate an inflammatory response in the gut, exacerbating digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). If you already suffer from one of these conditions, limiting your consumption of artificial sweeteners could be beneficial in managing your symptoms.

Increased intestinal permeability

Chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners could cause what is colloquially known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’ (intestinal hyperpermeability), where the gut lining becomes more permeable to substances that wouldn’t usually be able to pass through it into the bloodstream.

Such substances include bacterial toxins and undigested food particles that can wreak havoc on your digestive system, leading to gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhoea, and abdominal cramps. It can also cause systemic symptoms like fatigue due to decreased energy and nutrient absorption and the presence of bacterial toxins in the blood. 

What Are Some Sweeteners or Alternatives That Are Gut Friendly?

Generally, simple sugars are best for your gut as they’re easy to break down and are unlikely to cause any negative side effects. Simple sugars are found in maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, molasses, and coconut sugar.

Stevia is also a great option if you want a gut-friendly sweetener for your foods and drinks. It contains basically no calories but is extremely sweet, making it great for weight maintenance or weight loss.

Monk fruit sweetener is also relatively gut-friendly. It is obtained from monk fruit and provides a natural and calorie-free way to sweeten your foods and drinks. It also contains antioxidants that can neutralise reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the gut, reducing inflammation and intestinal cell damage.

How Can I Relieve Bloating From Sweeteners?

Thankfully, there are lots of helpful dietary adjustments and lifestyle changes to reduce bloating caused by sweeteners. Below, we’ve covered some of our top tips and tricks for relieving bloating quickly.

Keep a food diary

Monitoring your food intake and any associated gut symptoms using a food diary is a great way to keep track of which foods cause which digestive issues for you. Purchase a notebook or diary that you can dedicate to tracking your food intake.

Each time you eat, note down the foods you’ve eaten, including any granulated sugar or artificial sweeteners that you add to your meals and snacks. At the same time, write down any digestive symptoms that you experience in the hours following each meal and snack, including things like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and abdominal cramps.

Reduce your sweetener consumption wherever possible

If you find that artificial sweeteners cause you to have digestive issues, it’s best to avoid them altogether. This way, you can limit negative digestive symptoms, keep your gut bacteria happy, and maintain great overall health. 

Although sweeteners can be hidden in common foods, reading nutrition labels when you purchase foods at the supermarket will enable you to identify which ones contain artificial sweeteners. Natural and artificial sweeteners and sugars will be written on the ingredients list as they are. 

For example, you might see sorbitol, xylitol, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin written on food labels. Alternatively, you might see the brand names for common sweeteners used in the UK, on nutrition labels, such as Splenda for sucralose or Nutrasweet for aspartame, or the artificial sweeteners written as E numbers (for example, aspartame is E951, erythritol E968, and saccharin E954).

Choose natural sweeteners instead of artificial ones

Generally, natural sweeteners cause fewer negative side effects than artificial sweeteners because they’re more easily broken down and absorbed. 

Choosing natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit sugar over artificial options like aspartame and sucralose will promote better digestion and minimise bloating. There is also a lower risk of systemic symptoms or potential health problems when you sweeten your dishes naturally.

Keep your sugar alcohol (polyol) intake to a minimum

Polyols can contribute to excessive gas production in the colon, worsening abdominal bloating in healthy individuals and exacerbating existing digestive health issues like IBS and IBD.

Avoiding sugar alcohols could help reduce bloating, even if you still consume other forms of artificial sweeteners. Make sure to learn which foods you commonly purchase from the supermarket contain polyols so you can avoid them or reduce your intake of these foods.

Consume more fibre

Including more fibre-rich foods in your diet can relieve bloating caused by consuming sweeteners. Insoluble fibre, which you can find in wheat bran and nuts), is like a natural laxative that remains in your large intestine and softens the stool, preventing constipation.

Fibre-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Incorporating lots of these foods into your diet won’t just minimise bloating. It will also improve your overall digestive health by:

  • Fuelling the beneficial bacteria in your gut to prevent gut dysbiosis and associated symptoms
  • Slowing down blood glucose absorption to prevent large spikes in your blood sugar after eating (and potentially lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes)
  • Increasing satiation to keep you fuller for longer and reduce the risk of overeating and developing obesity

Avoid having carbonated drinks alongside sweeteners

Carbonated drinks like sodas, some alcoholic drinks, and sparkling water can increase gassiness and flatulence. It’s best to avoid consuming them as much as possible if you want to keep bloating at bay.

It’s especially good to avoid having anything carbonated if you’re eating something that contains artificial sweeteners, as the combination of carbonated drinks and sweeteners could be a nightmare for your digestion.

Consider taking probiotics

Whether you choose to increase your probiotic intake through foods or supplements, doing so can be one of the best remedies for bloating. Probiotics are bacteria that reside naturally in the gut and help make compounds, such as vitamins (B12 and k, to be specific) and short-chain fatty acids, which enter the bloodstream and can be used by the body.

Short-chain fatty acids include acetate, butyrate, and propionate, and they play important roles in energy production, blood glucose regulation, and inflammation reduction. Vitamin B12 also aids energy production, as well as the production of DNA, red blood cells, and nerve cells. Vitamin K aids blood clotting by activating clotting factors.

Probiotic bacteria aid digestion and keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy and well-functioning. They also help to keep the number of dangerous bacteria low in your colon.

You can consume probiotics in fermented foods like sauerkraut, yoghurt, tempeh, miso, kefir, and pickles. You can also take drinks like kombucha to boost your levels of probiotic gut bacteria.

Alternatively, you can take our daily supplement, A Dose For Bloating, which contains two billion probiotic bacteria to tackle bloating (whether caused by artificial sweeteners or something else) and provide gas relief. Most of our customers experience digestive relief within just a couple of weeks of taking one of two capsules of A Dose For Bloating each day.

Take digestive enzymes when you eat artificially sweetened foods

Digestive enzymes can help with bloating just as much as probiotics. They are important proteins that help to break down foods into smaller pieces that can pass into the bloodstream and be used by the cells for various functions.

Although you produce digestive enzymes naturally, taking a supplement can boost your digestion and metabolism by aiding your body’s endogenous production of these enzymes.

Stay hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day to keep bloating at bay. This is especially important if you’re consuming lots of artificial sweeteners, as dehydration and sweeteners can be detrimental to your digestion when they occur in combination.

Sip water regularly throughout the day to keep your body hydrated and prevent negative digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, and abdominal pain. If you’re exercising or it’s a very hot and humid day, make sure to top up with even more water than usual to prevent thirst and dehydration.