Can artificial sweeteners help with weight loss?
When saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, was discovered in 1879, it was considered a boon for diabetics. This is because it can sweeten foods without causing a spike in blood sugar, as an organization devoted to saccharin research and history notes. Since that time, an avalanche of artificial sweeteners has flooded the market, with promises of not only diabetes management but weight loss as well. The idea, of course, is that the lack of calories and carbohydrates in artificial sweeteners allows people to enjoy the sweet flavors without the metabolic rate hike. (Sounds like the ultimate example of “have your cake and eat it too”, right?)
As of 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six types of artificial sweeteners:
- Saccharine (Sweet N Low, Sweet Twins, Sweet Necta)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Twin Sugar, Equal)
- Acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K (Sweet One, Sunett)
- sucralose (Splenda)
- Neotame (Neotame)
- In front of me
Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and numerous studies have examined the safety and effectiveness of each for weight loss. However, fake sweeteners have been plagued with accusations of everything from causing cancer to making you pack on extra pounds instead of shedding them.
Wondering if reaching for a pink or blue little box can really lead to weight loss? That’s what science and experts say.
Research on artificial sweeteners and weight
Given the controversial interaction between artificial sweeteners and weight loss, it’s not surprising that studies abound on their relationship. Unfortunately, the conclusions are not entirely clear.
1 review posted in frontiers in nutrition, for example, asserted that the majority of clinical studies reported no significant or beneficial effects of artificial sweeteners on body weight (Although the authors note that long-term studies in humans are rare). Similarly, a systematic review was published in the bmj No evidence has been found of any effect of non-sugar sweeteners on overweight or obese adults or children trying to lose weight. And in a real blast, an analysis of 37 studies was published in Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners actually have it higher body mass index (BMI) and risk of cardiovascular disease of those who did not consume it.
On the other hand, some research suggests that alternative sweeteners may help you cut back. A meta-analysis of 20 studies concluded that non-nutritive sweeteners led to significant reductions in weight and body mass index. Meanwhile, a separate meta-analysis analyzed data from 14 cohorts of more than 416,000 people. In five of the groups, drinking low-calorie, no-calorie sweetened beverages was associated with lower weight, and in three groups, substituting artificially sweetened beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with lower weight and incidence of obesity. However, the researchers emphasized that these conclusions had “low to very low certainty” due to limited consistency and rigor in the studies.
Are artificial sweeteners healthy?
Regardless of whether artificial sweeteners lower the number on the scale, many people have concerns about their overall safety. After all, they are often produced industrially and are a relatively new addition to our food supply. In addition, despite its sweet taste, the body does not recognize it as sugar. “Our bodies process low- and no-calorie sweeteners differently from sugar. One byproduct of sugar metabolism is calories. That’s not the case with low- and no-calorie sweeteners,” explains Chris Soled, RD, director of nutrition communications for the International Nutrition Information Council. in Washington, DC.
However, this does not mean that Splenda in your baked goods or diet drink with lunch will harm your health. To the contrary, artificial sweeteners have been studied extensively for safety, and public health organizations recommend generous upper limits. “The Food and Drug Administration has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each sweetener,” says Justin Chan, RD, CDCES, founder of Diabetes Dietitian. For example, the ADI for aspartame is 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight each day. So if you weigh 68 kilograms, or 150 pounds, you can safely eat up to 3,400 milligrams of aspartame per day. Since there is approximately 200 milligrams of aspartame For every can of diet soda, that would add up to 17 cans a day to reach your limit.”
Certainly not everyone can tolerate large amounts of alternative sweeteners. People with digestive disorders, for example, may need to be careful about certain choices. “Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome should avoid artificial sweeteners that contain sorbitol or erythritol, as they may exacerbate the condition,” says Lisa Andrews of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. It also recommends that people with the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria avoid aspartame.
People with diabetes should consider working with a registered dietitian or other healthcare professional before diving into the world of artificial sweeteners. Chan says there is limited research on the safety of some of the new options, such as New Name and thaumatin, with diabetes. However, she stresses that non-nutritive sweeteners in general can be an excellent (And even healthy) option for people with this condition. “For example, a zero-calorie artificially sweetened beverage can replace your favorite sugar-sweetened beverage because of similar flavor profiles,” she notes. “Also, people with diabetes often enjoy very little of the food they eat due to all the dietary restrictions, so it can be a good alternative to overeating. In this way, artificial sweeteners can increase satisfaction and help you stick to your meal plan in the long run.”
As a last rule, the use of artificial sweeteners does not always translate to health. Many foods that contain these ingredients are highly processed or contain large amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and additives. Careful reading on the label can help you determine a food’s overall nutritional profile.
Should you use artificial sweeteners when trying to lose weight?
With all the conflicting evidence swirling around artificial sweeteners and weight, it pays to get an expert look at this issue. So, are these zero-calorie foods worth including in your diet if you’re looking to slim down your pant size, according to nutritionists and researchers?
In short, yes — but you don’t necessarily have to include it. “There are many ways to lose weight and keep it off, and the common nutritional thread among them is to reduce your total caloric intake,” says Solled. “Because low- or no-calorie sweeteners provide zero or negligible calories, they can be beneficial in reducing the number of calories, especially calories from added sugars in the beverages we consume.”
If your weight-loss journey includes a specific diet besides cutting calories — such as a Mediterranean diet, a vegan diet, or a keto diet — you can choose to include artificial sweeteners in those as well. Because these products contain little to no calories and carbohydrates, they will not significantly interfere with counting macros or developing plant-based meal strategies. (Most artificial sweeteners are plant-based.) However, some diets, such as Whole 30, eliminate the use of all sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners. It is up to you to determine your comfort level about including artificial sweeteners in your chosen diet plan.
Andrews agrees that alternative sweeteners can have a place in a weight loss diet. “While some nonnutritive sweeteners can affect glycemic control or pose a risk of weight gain, I still prefer clients to use them over traditional, calorie-containing sweeteners if diabetes management or weight loss are their goals.”
Just realize that having a Diet Coke or Sweet’N Low for your morning coffee is not a panacea for weight loss. “Artificial sweeteners are not a magic bullet, and consuming them does not guarantee weight loss or improved health,” says Soled. “In addition to adjusting what we eat and drink, successful weight loss/maintenance plans seek to improve health at the same time and also encourage people to focus on things like regular exercise, sleep quality, and establishing/maintaining social support networks.”