The impact of artificial sweeteners versus sugar on gut health is a complex and evolving area of research. Both artificial sweeteners and sugar can have different effects on the gut microbiota and overall digestive health. 

Artificial Sweeteners

The consumption of sugar-free foods is growing because of their low-calorie content and the health concerns about products with high sugar content. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are commonly consumed in the diet. In the past couple of decades, artificial sweeteners have become increasingly popularized as a non-caloric additive to sweeten foods and drinks. Although these non-nutritive sweeteners are considered safe and well tolerated, there is evidence that they can have effects on glucose intolerance and alterations to the composition of the intestinal microbiota [1,2].  


Artificial sweeteners are low in calories and do not directly contribute to tooth decay. They are often used as sugar substitutes for people trying to manage their weight or blood sugar levels.


Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may alter the composition of the gut microbiota, potentially leading to negative effects on metabolism [1,2]. However, the evidence is not entirely consistent, and more research is needed to fully understand the long-term implications.


On average, American adults consume just over 15 teaspoons (tsp) of sugar per day, reports the American Heart Association. That’s far more than the recommended daily amount of 9 tsp for men and 6 tsp for women. Too much sugar can lead to weight gain, and being overweight can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and many types of cancer. But now we also know that a diet high in sugar can create an imbalance in the gut microbiome [3,4].


Natural sugars, such as those found in fruits and honey, can provide some nutritional benefits along with sweetness. 


High sugar intake can contribute to the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut and may lead to inflammation and other negative effects on gut health [3,4]. Additionally, excessive sugar consumption (especially refined sugar) is linked to various health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Key Considerations

Individual Variability:

The impact of sweeteners on gut health can vary among individuals. Factors such as genetics, diet, and overall health play a role in how the gut microbiota responds to different substances.


Whether it’s artificial sweeteners or sugar, moderation is crucial. Excessive consumption of either can have negative consequences on overall health.

Final Thoughts

In summary, both artificial sweeteners and sugar have their pros and cons, and the impact on gut health can vary. A balanced and moderate approach to sweetener consumption is generally recommended for maintaining good health. Following a balanced and nutritious diet that includes a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting the intake of added sugars and artificial sweeteners is a good practice for overall health. If you have specific health concerns or conditions, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalized advice based on your individual needs and health status.


[1] Ruiz-Ojeda, F. J., Plaza-Díaz, J., Sáez-Lara, M. J., & Gil, A. (2019). Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(suppl_1), S31–S48.

[2] Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D. et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature 514, 181–186 (2014).

[3] Satokari R. (2020). High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Nutrients, 12(5), 1348.

[4] Fajstova, A., Galanova, N., Coufal, S., Malkova, J., Kostovcik, M., Cermakova, M., Pelantova, H., Kuzma, M., Sediva, B., Hudcovic, T., Hrncir, T., Tlaskalova-Hogenova, H., Kverka, M., & Kostovcikova, K. (2020). Diet Rich in Simple Sugars Promotes Pro-Inflammatory Response via Gut Microbiota Alteration and TLR4 Signaling. Cells, 9(12), 2701.