Are sugar-free syrups unhealthy?

Sugar-free syrups have become increasingly popular as people look for ways to reduce their sugar intake. Brands like Walden Farms, Torani, and DaVinci offer a wide variety of sugar-free syrup flavors for pancakes, waffles, coffee drinks, and more. But are these syrups a healthy alternative to regular, sugar-sweetened syrups? Here is a comprehensive look at whether sugar-free syrups are unhealthy.

What are sugar-free syrups?

Sugar-free syrups are syrups that contain artificial sweeteners rather than sugar. The most common sweeteners used are:

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
  • Stevia
  • Monk fruit extract

These artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste of sugar without the calories. Sugar-free syrups contain few or no calories per serving compared to regular syrups which may have 100-200 calories per serving.

Are the artificial sweeteners in sugar-free syrups safe?

The safety of artificial sweeteners is controversial. While regulatory agencies like the FDA have approved them, some health advocates argue they have not been studied enough. Here is a look at the most common sweeteners used:


Aspartame has been extensively studied and is approved for use in more than 100 countries. However, some studies have linked it to increased risk of cancers in rodents. Overall, major regulatory agencies consider it safe in moderation.


Numerous studies have shown sucralose does not cause cancer or other health problems. Still, some argue larger human studies are needed. The FDA approves sucralose as safe.


Older studies linked saccharin to bladder cancer in rodents. However, the mechanism behind this does not occur in humans. Saccharin has been used for over a century and is approved as safe by the FDA.

Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)

The FDA reviewed over 100 studies and found no cancer risk in humans from ace-K. Concerns about cancer links in animals do not seem to apply to humans. It is approved for use.


Stevia comes from a natural plant and does not appear to pose any health risks. However, refined stevia extracts like rebaudioside A have not been studied as extensively. Overall, stevia is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit extract is relatively new, but no evidence suggests it poses health risks. It is approved as GRAS by the FDA.

Do sugar-free syrups impact blood sugar?

One big benefit of sugar-free syrups is they have a very minimal effect on blood sugar levels. While regular syrups can spike blood glucose, artificial sweeteners generally do not. This makes sugar-free syrups ideal for people with diabetes.

A 2018 study compared the effects of real maple syrup to a sucrose-free maple flavored syrup in people with type 2 diabetes. They found the sugar-free syrup did not alter insulin or glucose levels like real maple syrup did.

Other studies have found similar blood sugar benefits from using artificially sweetened syrups. This can make it easier for people to enjoy sweet flavors without affecting diabetes control.

Do they cause insulin resistance?

There is some concern that regularly using artificial sweeteners could lead to insulin resistance over time. Insulin resistance is when cells become less responsive to insulin, causing higher blood sugars.

Some studies in animals have linked artificial sweeteners to insulin resistance. However, results in humans are conflicting:

– A 2008 study found drinking sucralose-sweetened beverages for 5 months did not affect insulin sensitivity in healthy adults.

– A 2016 study found obese adults who used saccharin for 7 days had increased insulin resistance compared to sucrose.

– A 2021 review found no clear link between common sweeteners and insulin resistance.

Overall the evidence does not clearly show artificial sweeteners cause insulin resistance in humans. More long-term human studies are needed.

Do they affect gut health?

Artificial sweeteners are difficult for your gut bacteria to break down. This could potentially alter the balance of bacteria.

Some animal studies show sweeteners like saccharin can negatively impact gut microbiota. However, human studies are conflicting:

– A 2014 study found saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame did not significantly impact healthy adults’ gut bacteria.

– But a 2020 study found just 1 week of saccharin supplementation decreased gut microbiota diversity.

This is an emerging area of research. Currently there is no strong evidence showing sugar-free syrups disrupt healthy adult’s gut bacteria. But more studies are underway, especially on long-term use.

Do sugar-free syrups cause weight gain?

Sugar-free syrups are very low in calories, so they should not directly cause weight gain. However, some argue they may lead to overeating and indirectly cause weight gain.

The theory is that tasting sweetness without calories may confuse hunger cues and increase appetite later in the day. However, studies show conflicting results:

– A 2016 review of 15 trials found using artificial sweeteners over 6-40 months generally caused modest weight loss or no change – not weight gain.

– But a 2019 study found mice fed sucralose ate more calories later in the day than mice fed sugar.

In humans, there is no strong evidence showing sugar-free syrups or sweeteners cause overeating and weight gain for most people. In fact, they may support weight loss when replacing high-calorie sugars. But more research is still needed.

Do they increase diabetes risk?

Early animal studies linked saccharin to increased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, human studies show conflicting results:

– A 10-year study of over 400,000 people found sweetened beverage consumption (including artificially sweetened) was associated with increased type 2 diabetes risk.

– However, a 25-year study in nearly 200,000 people found consuming artificially sweetened beverages did NOT increase diabetes risk while sugar-sweetened beverages did.

Overall, there is no clear evidence that artificial sweeteners increase diabetes risk. Limiting both sugar and artificially sweetened beverages and practicing an overall healthy diet appears best for diabetes prevention.

Do sugar-free syrups contain preservatives?

Many sugar-free syrups do contain preservatives to prolong shelf life. Common preservatives include:

  • Potassium sorbate
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Calcium disodium EDTA

Studies suggest these preservatives are likely safe at allowed levels for most people. However, some people aim to minimize preservatives in their diet when possible. Reading nutrition labels and choosing brands without preservatives is an option.

Some preservative-free syrup options include Simple Syrup and Lakanto Monkfruit Syrups.

Do they contain artificial colors?

Some sugar-free syrups contain artificial food coloring to enhance appearance. Common ones include Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1.

While permitted in the US, some studies link artificial colors to health issues in children like hyperactivity.

Adults generally tolerate small amounts. But people aiming to avoid artificial ingredients may want to choose syrups without colorings. Preservative-free options like Simple Syrup are typically coloring-free.

Do sugar-free syrups affect dental health?

Sugar is known to damage tooth enamel and promote cavities. Sugar-free syrups do not contain sugar, so they are less likely to cause tooth decay.

However, some sugar-free syrups are highly acidic. Acidity can also erode enamel over time. Options like stevia and monk fruit syrups tend to be less acidic.

For optimal dental health, limit acidic drinks and practice good oral hygiene habits like brushing and flossing. Using sugar-free rather than regular syrups can reduce your risk of cavities.

Do they cause cancer?

There are concerns that artificial sweeteners like aspartame could increase cancer risk. However, major health agencies have found no clear evidence linking approved sweeteners to cancer in humans.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states: “There is no clear evidence that any of these sweeteners causes cancer in humans.” The American Cancer Society’s position is that artificial sweeteners are safe for consumption by the general public.

While more research is underway, cancer risk seems low based on current data. Of course, moderation is still recommended with syrups and sweeteners.


Based on current research, there is no strong evidence that sugar-free syrups are unhealthy or pose major health risks in moderation. They can provide sweet flavor without blood sugar spikes and calories.

However, some people aim to avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and synthetic ingredients when possible. Moderation is still best to limit any potential risks.

For those with diabetes, sugar-free syrups are an effective way to reduce carbohydrate and sugar intake while still enjoying sweet flavors. But they should be used as part of an overall healthy diet focused on whole, nutritious foods.

Further long-term studies on sugar-free syrups are still needed. But major regulatory agencies currently deem common sweeteners like sucralose and stevia safe for human consumption within approved levels.

Overall, sugar-free syrups appear to be a reasonable alternative to enjoy sweet flavors without excess sugar and calories for most people. But moderation, variety, and an overall healthy diet is still the best approach for optimal health.

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