Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes sweeten foods without extra calories. But studies show the ingredients can affect gut and heart health, says Report

Top 10 tips to improving your gut health

Table sugar, or sucrose, is still the dominant sweetener in the food supply, and eating a lot of ultra-processed foods with added sugar has been linked to chronic illness and obesity. The number of new food products containing sucrose has fallen by 16 percent in the last five years.

The use of high-fructose corn syrup and agave syrup also has declined. "These low-calorie sweeteners are ubiquitous in the food supply, and so people often aren't even aware that they're consuming them," said Allison Sylvetsky, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and nutrition sciences at George Washington University. Many sugar substitutes are known as high-intensity sweeteners because they're often hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar.

Some are synthetic, like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, while others, like allulose, stevia and monk fruit extract, are referred to as "natural" because they're derived from plants. Sugar substitutes can be found in ingredient lists on food packages, often with names that many consumers don't recognize, like adventame, neotame and acesulfame potassium. Foods that claim "no artificial sweeteners" are often sweetened with stevia and other "natural" sugar substitutes.

Various sweeteners are turning up in cereals, juices and other packaged foods marketed to kids -- even though public health groups have discouraged their use among children. Sucralose and acesulfame potassium are regularly used in Greek yogurts, tortilla wraps and other foods served in school meals. Schools in some states have experimented with serving chocolate milk sweetened with a blend of sugar and monk fruit extract. [...]

Scientists used to think that non-nutritive sweeteners were largely inert, activating sweet receptors on our tongues and passing through our bodies without causing metabolic changes. But questions remain about the health effects of consuming large amounts of these ingredients. The World Health Organization cautioned people to limit their intake of sugar substitutes because of their potential for "undesirable" long-term effects, including detrimental effects on gut and metabolic health.