Low-Calorie Sweeteners May Contribute to Weight Gain

Ebony Scott
July 17, 2017

We've all heard the popular theory that if you are using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar you get the benefits of a potential weight loss and sweet taste without the unnecessary calories. But they did not find concrete proof of causation. While more research needs to be done, from what we know now, "there is no clear benefit for weight loss, and there's a potential association with increased weight gain, diabetes and other negative cardiovascular outcomes", says Azad.

"Over 40 per cent of adults are reporting using artificial sweeteners on a regular basis", said Azad.

"People consume artificial sweeteners and diet beverages and think they can eat cake".

To understand the effect of artificial sweeteners consumed by pregnant women on weight gain, metabolism and gut bacteria of their infants, a team at Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, under the lead author Dr. Meghan Azad, Assistant Professor, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, is undertaking a new study. But they are more likely to gain weight than sugar, plus they are unsafe for health, scientists say.

Admittedly, both reviewed studies do have their strengths and weaknesses.

The review examined 37 studies on the topic, some of which were randomized trials, while others were observational studies.

Five artificial sweeteners are permitted for use in the United Kingdom: aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame potassium (known as acesulfame K), cyclamate and sucralose.

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Nutrition scientist Allison Sylvetsky at the George Washington University, who was not involved in the study, agrees.

And contrary to expectation based on the belief cutting out sugar would prevent weight gain, evidence that taking artificial sweeteners reduces weight was mixed. In the seven trials, people were randomly assigned to receive the sweetener or not, allowing researchers to compare the two groups and say with some confidence whether the substance caused a benefit or harm. Furthermore, over the long term, the observational studies indicated the sweeteners were not only associated with weight gain, they were also linked to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

He agrees with Azad's call for more research into the matter. "They're shifting calories to other foods", Azad explained.

Nonnutritive sweeteners may also alter the body's response to sweetness over time, changing the way it metabolizes actual sugar, says Susan Swithers, a professor in the department of psychological sciences at Purdue University in Indiana.

Most of the participants in the randomized trials were on a weight-loss program, and taken together, the results showed no significant impact of sweetener use on body mass index. And more trials that reflect how people consume sweeteners in a host of foods are needed. Sylvetsky Meni doesn't think having a diet soda here and there is bad.

One problems with some of the artificial sweetener research is that it had been funded by industry. That means getting used to plain or fruit-infused water, black coffee and plain yogurt mixed with fruit rather than products containing either added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

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