For decades, millions of American consumers have assumed that artificial sweeteners make healthier substitutes to sugar when enjoying sweet drinks and foods as these alternatives contain few to none calories. However, a new study published on July 17th in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed credible evidence challenging this long-worshipped belief. The research report, also known as “Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies,” explores the link between sugar alternatives and weight gain. Over a span of 10 years, the study followed 400,000 people who were on a weight loss program to track whether the intake of artificial sweeteners is effective for weight control (through randomized trials, assigning people to either receive the sweetener or not).
Results showed that artificial sweeteners do not seem to assist in weight loss. Observational data proves that participants who drank one or more artificially sweetened drinks per day are at a greater risk of obesity, weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than non-regular users. Between the participants who consumed the most artificial sweeteners compared to those who used the least, data found a slight increase in BMI, 14 percent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and a 32 percent higher chance of cardiovascular events. 40 percent of Americans consume low calorie sweeteners every day, according to the author of the study, Meghan Azad, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Artificial sweeteners range in shape and form: found in packages of beverage sweeteners including Splenda, Equal, and Sweet ‘N Low to unsuspecting yogurts and granola bars. “People are generally consuming non-nutritive sweeteners believing they are a ‘healthy choice’, but this may not be true,” Azad says, “This research has made me appreciate that there’s more to it than calories alone.”
Results from the study do not conclusively state the exact harm that artificial sweeteners may cause. Sweeteners themselves may not be to blame for health problems – other factors may come into play, such as existing theories postulating that sweetener consumption may increase a consumer’s taste for sweet or processed foods, which may then lead to poor health conditions. A professor in the department of psychological studies at Purdue University, Susan Swithers claims, “People need to be reducing their overall intake of sweeteners whether they have calories or not. If we are consuming them appropriately it might not matter. If you are using a little bit, it’s probably not a big deal.” Swithers adds, “Unfortunately, the quality of evidence that would support using sweeteners is not really strong.”
Based on all of the research done so far, there is no clear evidence for a benefit, but there is evidence of potential harm from the long term consumption of artificial sweeteners. This should inspire consumers to think about whether they want to be consuming artificial sweeteners, especially on a regular basis, because we do not know if they are a truly harmless alternative to sugar.
Read more here – “Artificial Sweeteners Are Linked to Weight Gain—Not Weight Loss,” (Alexandra Sifferlin, Time)