With the average soda containing around 150 calories, it might seem that replacing those sugar calories with a zero-calorie artificial sweetener would promote weight loss. But several studies show that this just doesn’t happen. Why?
If you think switching to drinks and foods sweetened with zero- or low-calorie sugar substitutes will help you lose weight, think again.
That’s the message from a study published in the July 2017 Journal of Canadian Medical Association. The researchers found that using artificial sweeteners did not result in weight loss. In fact, the study found that compared to people who do not routinely use artificial sweeteners, those who do gained more weight, had a larger waistline and higher incidence of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The 2008 San Antonio Heart Study found that people who drank 21 or more artificially sweetened beverages a week were twice as likely to be either overweight or obese as those who drank one or less per week.
The use of artificial sweeteners is more widespread than ever. There are six no-calorie artificial sweeteners currently approved for use by the FDA. All of these are approved for safety when used in moderation. They include acesulfame potassium (Sweet One), aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), sucralose (Splenda), neotame and advantame.
Additionally, stevia and monk fruit extract have been given GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol and sorbitol, are low-calorie sweeteners.
Since 1999, there has been a 200-percent increase in Americans’ use of artificial sweeteners. According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 25 percent of children and more than 40 percent of adults consume artificial sweeteners on a daily basis.
With the average soda containing around 150 calories, it might seem that replacing those sugar calories with a zero-calorie artificial sweetener would promote weight loss. But several studies show that this just doesn’t happen. Why? Following are some theories.
•We may replace those calories with other sweets. “I had a diet soda with lunch, so I can have dessert.”
•Artificial sweeteners may change how we taste foods. These sweeteners are several-hundred-times sweeter than sugar. This may over-stimulate our sugar receptors. As a result, naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, might taste less sweet to us and foods that are not sweet, such as vegetables, might taste bitter and unpalatable.
•Artificial sweeteners may prevent the body from associating sweetness with calories, which might cause us to crave more sweets.
•Artificial sweeteners may alter our gut bacteria leading to glucose intolerance — a risk factor for diabetes and obesity.
Artificial sweeteners are some of the most studied ingredients in our food supply. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association both approve the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee assessed the use of low-calorie sweeteners and found that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners could reduce calories in the short-term but may not be effective for long-term weight loss.
The concern I have is that even if you avoid artificially sweetened beverages, you probably consume these sweeteners more than you know. Kids, especially, are at risk with their smaller bodies and the overabundance of artificial sweeteners in many commonly consumed foods. Most flavored waters and more than a third of yogurts contain artificial sweeteners. Many products marketed as “light” or “no sugar added” contain artificial sweeteners. Following are examples of products that contain artificial sweeteners.
•Whole grain breads and English muffins containing a combination of sugar and sucralose
•Pedialyte, which uses sucralose and acesulfame potassium
•Microwave kettle corn sweetened with sucralose
•Hot cocoa mixes with a mixture of sugar, corn syrup and sucralose
•Reduced-sugar ketchup with sucralose
•No-added-sugar fruit cups containing monk fruit extract
•Flavored waters sweetened with sucralose
“Natural” low-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit extract and sorbitol, may or may not be better. They are relatively new and few studies have assessed them.
No one knows the long-term effect of consuming large amounts of multiple artificial sweeteners on a daily basis. Using artificial sweeteners as an excuse to keep eating sweet foods is not the answer to a healthy diet. With no clear evidence showing a benefit to using artificial sweeteners, I can’t help but wonder if the potential for harm is worth a few saved calories.