My mother used to joke about my “drinking problem.” But before you think I have a problem with alcohol, know that my issue had nothing to do with the wine. It was the 2-liter bottle of diet soda that I went through almost daily that she saw as a problem.

I kicked my diet soda addiction several years ago after I started paying attention to what I was putting in my body. I stopped buying anything with artificial sweeteners in it. Although I didn’t know at the time that artificial sweeteners aren’t particularly effective in achieving weight loss or can increase your chances of getting diabetes, I did know I didn’t want so many artificial foods in my family’s diet. I initially went with my gut on that decision, and now my gut has a reason to thank me.

A recent scientific study suggests that the reason artificial sweeteners may be a factor in diabetes, even though they don’t contain sugar, is because they mess with gut bacteria. Rodale News reports that scientists found that when mice drank water that contained the artificial sugar substitutes saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, the mice developed glucose intolerance — something that can be linked to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Mice fed plain water or water with regular sugar didn’t develop the glucose intolerance.

When scientists manipulated the gut bacteria in the mice’s stomachs and killed most of it off, they found that the glucose intolerance disappeared.

Based on what they found in mice, scientists conducted a small trial on humans that measured the gut bacteria of healthy people who consumed artificial sweeteners. They found that after just one week, participants started showing glucose intolerance and their gut bacteria composition had changed.

I’m not willing to have my gut bacteria killed off so I can enjoy artificial sweeteners, and I certainly don’t want artificial sweeteners changing the gut bacteria composition that I do have. I’ve discovered how important and beneficial gut bacteria is as I’ve been learning about fermenting foods, and I want to keep my gut bacteria right where it is, doing the job it’s supposed to do.

It’s important to remember that artificial sweeteners aren’t only found in diet sodas. They can also be found in other low-calorie treats like yogurt, ice cream, bakery products and candy. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.