Artificial sweeteners

Does the combination of non-caloric sweeteners with carbohydrates and other blood-glucose-raising ingredients in Huel impair the insulin system? @Dan_Huel @CharlotteMW_Huel

I was listening to the Huberman Lab podcast - by Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured Stanford Professor - and wanted to share this extract (and a link to a study) that concerned me because it suggested that the combination of non-caloric sweeteners with blood-glucose-raising foods increased risk of diabetes, at least when artificial sweeteners were later consumed without blood-glucose-raising foods.

Some questions:

  1. If the Dalenburg et al study conclusions are true and Huel raises blood glucose level, does that mean that regularly drinking flavoured Huel would increase the risk of diabetes? Is this true only if one also consumes artificial sweeteners on their own, or even if the only context in which artificial sweeteners are consumed is with Huel and other foods?

  2. Based on the Dalenburg study, how large an increase in blood glucose levels should we be concerned about? A very small Huel study (‘Blood Glucose Response to Huel Powder v3.0 and Huel Black Edition’) suggests only a ‘small’ increase, but I don’t know if I should be worried.

  3. Are there any reasons aside from that small Huel study to think Huel would or would not increase blood glucose levels (enough to be concerning)?

  4. What do you make of the two papers; do you think the conclusion of Dalenburg is correct?

Thanks so much!

Peter

One group of subjects is given a sweet taste of a substance that also raises blood glucose levels … and dopamine goes up …

[S]eparate subjects consume an artificial sweetener or a non-caloric sweetener. It is not preferred much over other substances, but it is sweet, so it’s preferred somewhat. And it does not cause an increase in blood glucose levels, and not surprisingly, dopamine levels don’t go up. … However, if subjects continue to ingest artificial sweeteners, even though there’s no increase in blood glucose level and therefore, no increase in brain metabolism, dopamine levels eventually start to rise … [Y]ou’ve essentially conditioned or reinforced that artificial or non-caloric sweetener, and then subjects start to consume more of it and they actually get a dopamine increase from it. …

[A]nother condition that’s been explored … [is] the condition where an artificial sweetener is paired with a substance that can increase blood sugar, but not because it tastes sugary … So now, there’s an artificial sweetener that’s coupled with an actual increase in blood glucose. … And when that happens, what you’re essentially doing is tapping into the dopamine system. This non-caloric sweet taste is paired with it, and there’s an increase in neuron metabolism. So you have all of the components for reinforcement. And as a consequence, … later, when you ingest that artificial sweetener, you actually get not only the increase in dopamine, but you get alterations in blood sugar management. …

If you ingest an artificial sweetener, say, drink diet soda while consuming foods that increase blood glucose, then later, even if you just drink the diet soda, it’s been shown that you secrete much more insulin … in response to that diet soda.

Studies have been done in both adult humans and human children … exploring consuming diet soda with or without food, then later, consuming just the diet soda … [O]f course, there isn’t an increase in blood glucose, because they’re not bringing in any calories … but there is a significant increase in insulin release … [and] insulin sensitivity is the basis for type 2 diabetes. So much so, that in the study with the children, consuming non-caloric beverages in this way, first with food, and then on their own, led to increases in insulin that made them pre-diabetic and they actually had to halt the study…

If you are going to consume artificial sweeteners, it’s very likely best to consume those away from any food that raises blood glucose levels.

Study link and study refuting original study, though note potential conflict of interest in latter:

He has received travel support, speaker fees, and/or honoraria from Diabetes Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada, FoodMinds LLC, International Sweeteners Association

Eat Unflavored/Unsweetened version of Huel and you no longer have to worry about artificial sweeteners. It’s an easy solution to this problem and requires no further research.

For those who want some taste beyond the oaty taste, Huel could create a version of the powder with cocoa but no sweetener, or coffee and no sweetener, or any other taste but no sweetener.

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Yes, this is my backup option - but I really like chocolate Huel, so wanted to first figure out if I was misunderstanding things.

Hey Peter, I’m going to answer all 4 of your questions together. No, it’s a common misconception that increased blood glucose levels increases the risk of diabetes, blood glucose levels increase pretty much every time you eat or drink something.

Type 2 diabetes is a result of the body’s inability to respond to the insulin it secretes after a meal, most likely because the body is carrying excess fat. Hopefully that explains why Huel isn’t going to be an issue.

I’ve searched for the quotes you mentioned in the full study, but I’m not finding them sorry so can only assume they’re coming from Huberman podcast rather than the study itself. No I don’t share their confidence. It’s one set of studies that lasted 10 days, we don’t know if the effects continue if someone stops consuming sucralose or if other components such as fibre interact with these effects.

Maybe we will find in the future that there is a link there, maybe we won’t. However, right now based off current evidence I think the benefits of sucralose outweigh the risks.

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Hi Dan,

Thanks for your reply! I understand that increased blood glucose levels alone don’t increase the risk of diabetes. The question I’m trying to answer is whether non-caloric sweeteners, in conjunction with food that raises blood glucose levels, increases diabetes risk. Sorry if I was unclear.

The quotes are from the Huberman podcast episode, since they refer to multiple studies and I felt they gave useful context on his views. I understand that this 10-day study is limited, but it seems like a huge deal if these conclusions are correct and apply in the context of artificially sweetened meal replacements like Huel.

Out of curiosity, what makes you think the benefits of sucralose outweigh the risks? Seems to me like a small amount of honey / syrup / coconut sugar / cocoa if you don’t have a sweet tooth, while probably worse because of calories, might not be worse enough to outweigh the risk of diabetes even if it’s quite small / uncertain, but keenly aware I don’t know a lot about nutrition and might be missing something.

I’ll let Dan reply to the comments on diabetes risk.

It’s worth noting that “a small amount” wouldn’t be possible. Sucralose is 600x as sweet as sugar gram for gram, so to achieve the same level of sweetness with your suggested sugars we would need a lot more (although not 600x more, but certainly much more), and therefore a lot of unnecessary calories.

In Black Edition we balance organic coconut sugar with stevia because coconut sugar doesn’t provide enough sweetness. Obviously there are Unsweetened options of all powders too.

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No problem at all. I still think my answer above applies, so it’s a simply no from me.

Based on the current evidence I don’t think the conclusions can be correct. Even if they were, they can’t be applied in the context of artificially sweetened complete meals because as I said above the effects of fibre, protein and other nutrients have not been investigated.

As Tim said it’s not a 1:1 replacement so that’s important to consider. Sucralose, compared to sugar, doesn’t affect dental health, doesn’t contribute calories and doesn’t raise blood glucose as much.

Thanks for the questions, it’s always good to get us thinking!

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