Artificial sweeteners have definite advantages in weight management and control of diabetes because they permit variety and satisfy cravings without the extra calories or the increase in blood sugar and insulin that occurs when eating high sugary foods. Artificial sweeteners (AS) offer the individual the sweetness of sugar without the calories providing variety and increasing palatability which is so important for successful weight management. Part 2- They are effective.
They are anywhere from 20 to 7,000 times sweeter than sugar. Each gram of refined table sugar contains 4 calories vs. zero calories per gram for artificial sweeteners. In theory, they should be the dream of everyone who needs to limit their weight, yet that has not worked out that way. Questions about the safety and more recently effectiveness keep coming up.
The Answer is clear: Artificial Sweeteners are Safe:
Whether its aspartame, sucralose or Truvia, the medical consensus is that they are very safe products. This is supported by regulatory agencies around the world, who have evaluated these compounds not once, but multiple times, the best research from academic obesity centers, and the consensus of expert medical committees of various scientific organizations. Billions of cans of diet drinks have been consumed since 1982 when aspartame was approved by the FDA without a proven instance of cancer, nervous system diseases, or visual problems. Anecdotal claims that purport to show otherwise have thus far been overwhelmingly rejected by leading food safety authorities as flawed.
Artificial Sweeteners Help Weight Loss
Once the consumer accepts the safety of artificial sweeteners, the next question should be whether they are effective. There is no doubt the benefit diabetics achieve with these compounds. Making food more palatable certainly leads to better adherence to any food restriction plan-the cornerstone of weight management. Dr Barry Popkin from Purdue University reviewed his long term study in participants drinking AS beverages and 152 more studies -all showed weight loss. He writes, "taken together, the evidence by us and other suggests that than the non- nutritive sweeteners are used as substitutes for higher yielding energy, they have the potential to aid in weight management."
Here is a summary of the issues raised by critics that believe that consuming artificial sweeteners results in weight gain:
Artificial Sweeteners do NOT Cause Hunger or Increase Sweet Consumption:
There is some questionable data that drinking artificially sweetened beverages leads to the desire for more sweet food i.e. sweet leads to more sweet. All though possibly true, this behavior has marked variability and for most people it is not very important. It can be minimized when the artificially sweetened beverages are consumed with food. On the contrary, some research has found that AS can actually increase the release of satiety producing hormones. There is no credible evidence that AS increase appetite or hunger. There is no proven increase in fat consumption when sugar intake is reduced.
Artificial Sweeteners May Cause Over Compensation in some Individuals:
This means that some individuals are influenced to eat more food when they are using artificially sweetened food and drinks- the result is to cancel out the caloric savings. This again is a very individual behavior and for some people it may be very important and needs to be recognized. Everyone has seen people eating a chocolate cake and drinking a diet soda.
Artificially Sweetened Drinks may be less Filling:
There is some evidence that drinking sugar sweetened beverages leads to feeling fuller for longer periods of time. However, any savings are overshadowed by the increase in net calories.
Artificial sweeteners may lead to Weight Gain, not Weight loss: There are a few studies that have found slight weight gain, rather than weight loss in subjects consuming artificially sweetened beverages. The most important study was from 2008 which reported that artificially sweetened drinks might produce weight gain, rather than weight loss. Conducted by Dr Sharon Fowler and colleagues at the University of Texas in San Antonio, this study has been widely quoted and misinterpreted. Here is what was reported:
1. Only artificially sweetened beverages were studies, not all the other foods containing artificial sweeteners. Both groups were part of a Heart study, and were not obese to begin with. The non AS users started
with an average BMI of 26.9, those using AS's started with a higher BMI of 27.9. The study lasted 8 years and included 5100 residents of San Antonio.
2. The differences in weight gain between those drinking artificially sweetened drinks vs. those that did not was an increase in average BMI of 0.47. ( A normal BMI is less than 25, borderline between 26 to 29 and obese if 30 or more; an example of a BMI increase of 0.47 is the difference between 200 lbs. and 203 lb. for a 5 ft 10 inch individual or 150 and 152 for a 5 ft 4) This means that even before the study began the participants were just about normal, the non-AS drinkers were thinner and over the years gained a few pounds. If AS cause obesity, as the title of the article infers, then why did they not become obese? They had 8 years. Maybe the explanation is that individuals that drink AS beverages have a tendency to become overweight in the first place and that's why they drink the beverages.
3. None of the results applied diabetics, or to obese people (BMI = 30 or greater). This is very important, since it's obese and diabetics that benefit most by AS.
4. The authors end their report stating, "Dieting was strongly associated with AS consumption: 72% of dieters vs. 41% of non dieters." That is exactly what one would expect, people trying to lose weight use artificial sweeteners, not normal weight people.
To take this data and come to the conclusion that artificially sweetened beverages cause obesity or are not helpful for weight loss is completely unfounded.
Numerous studies from all over the world, for the past 20 years involving overweight and obese subjects trying to lose weight have shown just the opposite- weight loss. More bibliography in part 3.
When all of the evidence is taken together, it appears that artificially sweetened beverages and foods are safe and can act as a substitute for higher calorie sweeteners and thus have a significant role to play in weight management. They make foods more palatable which encourages better compliance with a reduced food plan. This is confirmed by numerous studies from all over the world over the past 20 years. Drinking diet sodas will lead to weight gain when individuals use them as an excuse to eat higher calorie foods.
Who is doing the talking-That's the important issue for those consumers who are still confused, concerned and still in doubt about the scientific evidence proving artificial sweeteners are both safe and effective, look at the credentials of the authors-their degrees and positions that you might be reading and then compare that to the researchers I have reviewed:
George Blackburn M.D. Harvard Medical School, Boston
Arne Astrup, M.D. Center for Advanced Food Studies, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark
Adam Drewnowski, PhD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
David Ludwig, M.D, PhD. Harvard University Boston
Richard Mattes, M.D. Purdue University, West Lafayette, In
Barry Popkin, M.D. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Jennifer Nettleton, PhD for the MESA Study: Columbia University, New York, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Northwestern Unversity,Chicago, UCLA, Las Angles, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Wake Forest University, Winston Salem
More on interpreting this data in part 3 of Weight Loss and Artificial Sweeteners: Both Safe and Effective