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The Truth of Artificial Sweeteners: Part II- Can They Affect Your Weight?

By April 9, 2015Nutrition

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

In Part 1 of the Truth of Sweeteners we examined possible effects of artificial sweeteners and aspartame on cancer and brain disorders. There was little evidence to show any link. Now we’ll search for answers regarding these sweeteners and weight gain, along with diabetes.

Can Zero Calorie Sweeteners Increase Body Fat?

Many dieters love artificially sweetened products like Splenda, diet soda, Walden’s Farms dressings, and certain packaged foods because they deliver lots of taste for few calories. Critics of sweeteners say these calorie-free products actually contribute to weight gain. So what does the evidence say?

The American Society for Nutrition recently revaluated all of the available research regarding low-calorie sweeteners and body weight. The research demonstrates no association between artificial sweeteners and weight or body mass. It also indicates that substituting low-calorie sweeteners for full-calorie products can result in “modest weight loss and may be a useful dietary tool.”

The Obesity Society dug even further into this topic and conducted a study to compare the effects of water vs. zero calorie sweetened drinks for weight loss. Studying 303 men and women over 12 weeks, the results showed water is not superior to non-calorie sweetened beverages for weight loss.

Obesity Trends and Diet Soda

Zero calorie sweeteners do not affect the body like sugar and sweetened beverages, but many people who drink artificially sweetened beverages also tend to gain weight over time. Why is that?

Many dieters rely on products like diet soda to help them lose weight, but fail to control the rest of their overall calories. “Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults.” Diet soda is often linked with weight gain, but is not the cause.

Don’t Artificial Sweeteners Make You Crave Sugar?

A review of the evidence in 1994 revealed that any slight effect on hunger from artificial sweeteners does not lead people to eat more food. More recent research shows the most common sweetener (aspartame) and saccharin (Sweet N’ Low packets) did not help with hunger or fullness, but they also didn’t increase hunger.

What About Diabetes?

The majority of evidence does not show sweeteners cause weight gain, but they are linked to diabetes in the media and numerous websites. Just last year a study hit the mainstream press providing a connection between sweeteners and diabetes. Some researchers criticize this research (noted in the August 2014 addition of the AARR) disclosing it contained:

1) A study of saccharin in mice, which doesn’t have the same effect in humans

2) A 7 day study on humans consuming the equivalent of 10 Sweet ‘N Low packets a day, an unrealistic intake for most people.

3) Research with saccharin, a sweetener that’s only used in significant amounts in the soda Tab, along with Sweet ‘N Low packets.

Manufacturers of low-calorie sweeteners claim the study has several other significant limitations, and should be interpreted with caution. “Statements from leading health organizations and other peer-reviewed published studies are contrary to the study findings.”

The American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association put together an article citing 58 research studies to analyze the role low-calorie sweeteners play in health. They determined that when used judiciously, these sweeteners could help people lower their added sugar intake, thereby resulting in a lower calorie intake and better weight loss/maintenance. They concluded that calorie-free sweetened products will not help with weight loss if people compensate by eating additional calories.

The American Diabetes Association has published further research to declare no link between sweeteners and diabetes, and the American Heart Association states they can be part of a healthy diet.

Sweeteners as a Diet Tool

Diet soda and other calorie-free sweeteners are not proven to directly affect weight loss efforts for better or worse. Your body weight truly is determined by the calories you intake vs. the calories you burn. You can enjoy artificially sweetened beverages for almost zero calories, but you can’t consume extra calories elsewhere and expect to still lose weight. If all things are kept equal, replacing sweetened beverages (proven to cause diabetes in excess amounts) with diet soda will reduce calories, but cannot fix a bad diet. This can be used as just one tool in your nutrition strategy.

Analyzing the Bigger Picture

After reviewing all the information, I can only come to one conclusion: there’s no need to worry about having artificial sweeteners in moderation. Scientists have studied them for years, and the vast majority of evidence shows they are safe.

Not only is the evidence too much to ignore, but so is the stance of so many high profile organizations. No institution is beyond reproach, but almost EVERY important medical and health organization claims legal artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) are safe. If we believe (as some do) that these institutions are lying to make a profit….then what? How could we believe ANY of our modern health information and practices if all of our most trusted resources are so corrupt to knowingly endanger the public? Are we living in George Orwell’s 1984??

Artificial sweeteners are not an important part of nutrition, so whether people recognize the evidence really won’t have much effect on our health. But it’s troubling when popular personalities who vilify these products gain people’s trust, and then start touting dangerous information, like telling people to avoid vaccinations and the flu shot.

This fear mongering needs to stop. Have artificial sweeteners in moderation if you like them, abstain from them if you don’t. Trust the science. Trust the medical community. It’s the best we have, and I’m grateful for that.

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