Do sugar substitutes hurt or help with weight loss?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 20:54
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The whole idea of zero-calorie sweeteners is that they save calories. But evidence against the usefulness of artificial sweeteners as a weight-control tool seemed to be stacking up.

It's been noted that consumption of diet sodas is linked obesity.  Studies have suggested that the hyper-sweet flavor may increase the desire for sweets.  Or that the stimulation of sugar taste sensors combined with lack of calories may induce an unintended hormonal or metabolic response.  Or, simply that the idea that one is "saving calories" by using sugar substitutes may lead one to over-consume other foods in compensation. 

(See also my previous post "Sugar-Free Doesn't Get You Off Scot–Free" and this recent episode of the Nutrition Diva Podcast)

There's also new brain-mapping research from the Utrecht University
and University of Birmingham (Britain) showing that the brain can
distinguish caloric beverages from calorie-free ones, even when the
taste-buds can't. Researchers wonder whether this leads people to
subconsciously replace those calories with other foods. (See this article from the Chicago Tribune for more details.)

So what are we to make of this latest study, from the International Journal of Obesity, which found that the use of artificial sweeteners was an effective strategy for weight maintenance.  The report also notes a 2002 finding that people who used artificial sweeteners lost more weight than those who didn't.

For now, I think the bottom line is that using artificial sweeteners doesn't automatically lead to a reduction in calorie intake.  For those who closely monitor their calorie intake, including artificially-sweetened beverages may make sticking to the budget just a bit easier.

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