Experts Link Artificial Sweeteners With Obesity and Risk of Lifestyle Diseases

A wide-ranging review has found that long term use of the sweeteners may have negative effects on our metabolism and appetite as well as our gut bacteria

Researchers from the University of Manitoba's George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation found an association between artificial sweeteners and long-term weight gain, increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Jane Shearer, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary who is studying these sweeteners, notes the number of products that contain sugar substitutes has grown significantly in Canada in the past five years, with energy drinks, no-sugar-added ice creams, yogurt and even some bread products. Diabetics and those who strictly watched calories for the goal of weight management/loss have been the targeted lot.

The study found the benefits and drawbacks of sweeteners were conflicting.

MORE: Artificial Sweeteners Aren't the Answer to Obesity. Palm sugar, raw organic honey, jaggery, brown sugar, demerara sugar and organic sugar varieties are some of the best alternatives to regular refined sugar.

Lead author Meghan Azad said: "Caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised".

But new Canadian research published Monday suggests that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, may be doing more harm than good.

Artificial sweeteners don't do anything for weight loss, a new review states, contradicting the theory that using these gives the same sweetness as sugar, but without the added calories.

In addition, many people start using artificial sweeteners because they are already overweight and may already have developed diabetes. They are found in diet drinks or other similar products which people consume when they are trying to lower their sugar consumption and lose weight. People may also believe that because they haven't consumed calories, they have license to splurge elsewhere. In the seven trials, people were randomly assigned to receive the sweetener or not, allowing researchers to compare the two groups and say with some confidence whether the substance caused a benefit or harm.

"Really, the take-home message for this study is we need more research, because there isn't a lot of evidence on the long-term effects", she said.

The results of the study showed that sweeteners may help with weight loss if they become a one-to-one replacement for sugary drinks or food.

You may be reaching for artificial sweeteners thinking they're better for you because they have zero calories in drinks, sweets and other processed goods.

For example, a person drinking a no-calorie soda might feel free to eat calorie-laden foods, Azad noted.

Nonnutritive sweeteners may also alter the body's response to sweetness over time, changing the way it metabolizes actual sugar, says Susan Swithers, a professor in the department of psychological sciences at Purdue University in Indiana.

Azad suggests that consumers who turn to artificial sweeteners on the assumption that they're a healthier choice should to be cautious.



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