Artificial sweeteners, also known as non-nutritive sweeteners, may help people reach their body weight goal, and also maintain a healthy body weight, researchers reported in two journals, Circulation and Diabetes Care. However, users have to make sure they do not “compensate” by eating high-calorie foods. An example of “compensating” might be ordering a diet coke and also a large slice of chocolate cake.

Non-nutritive sweeteners are also known as low-calorie sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, non-caloric sweetners, and intense sweeteners.

The American Diabetes Association stated that for diabetes patients, using artificial sweeteners on their own or in foods and drinks may help aid glucose control if “used appropriately”.

In a new scientific statement issued by the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, replacing added sugars in drinks and other foods with non-nutritive sweeteners can, if used appropriately, help people lose weight and keep it off.

However, according to the article in Circulation, there is limited compelling scientific evidence that using artificial sweeteners is effective in the long-term for reducing calorie intake and consuming fewer added sugars.

The American Heart Association (AHA) states that a high dietary sugar intake is a contributory factor for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and developing type 2 diabetes. Added sugar consumption should not exceed 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories for men, if the consumer does not wish to increase the risk of the diseases and conditions mentioned above, the AHA adds.

McDonald's Royal Pattaya meal 20110513
Experts say “Do not compensate” – Do not have a diet drink together with a high-calorie meal

Another problem with sugary foods and drinks is that they displace nutritious food consumption, which may not only lead to weight gain, but also some level of malnutrition – i.e. the person may not be consuming the right balance of vitamins, minerals, fiber and proteins for good health.

Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Stanford University in California, said:

“While they are not magic bullets, smart use of non-nutritive sweeteners could help you reduce added sugars in your diet, therefore lowering the number of calories you eat. Reducing calories could help you attain and maintain a healthy body weight, and thereby lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. But there are caveats.”

Examples of non-nutritive sweeteners quoted by the authors include:

  • aspartame
  • acesulfame-K
  • neotame
  • saccharin
  • sucralose
  • plant-derived stevia

The authors explained that to date, studies on whether artificial sweeteners used to displace calorie-rich sweeteners, such as added sugars, may result in a reduction in carbohydrate consumption (desirable for diabetes control), calorie consumption, body weight control are inconclusive. Studies are also inconclusive regarding artificial sweeteners’ long-term impact on appetite, and the reduction of other risk factors linked to heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Garner said:

“Determining the potential benefits from non-nutritive sweeteners is complicated and depends on where foods or drinks containing them fit within the context of everything you eat during the day.

For example, if you choose a beverage sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners instead of a 150-calorie soft drink, but then reward yourself with a 300-calorie slice of cake or cookies later in the day, non-nutritive sweeteners are not going to help you control your weight because you added more calories to your day than you subtracted.

However, if you substitute the beverage with non-nutritive sweeteners for a 150-calorie sugar-sweetened soft drink, and don’t compensate with additional calories, that substitution could help you manage your weight because you would be eating fewer calories. “

For people with diabetes, soft drinks with artificial sweeteners do not raise blood glucose levels, and can therefore provide patients with a “sweet option”, says the American Diabetes Association. However, people need to select carefully; just because something says it has artificial sweeteners instead of sugar does not necessarily mean it is a “free” food or a healthy one.

Diane Reader, R.D., CDE, manager of professional training at the International Diabetes Center in Minneapolis, Minn., said:

“The use of non-nutritive sweeteners may be used in a carbohydrate-controlled food plan, to potentially reduce carbohydrate intake which may aid in weight management and diabetes control.”

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association both stressed that their new statement on artificial sweeteners does not evaluate the safety of such ingredients; this is done by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

Garner said:

“For anyone trying to monitor or reduce their intake of calories or added sugars, the potential impact of choosing ‘diet products’ with non-nutritive sweeteners needs to be considered within the context of the overall diet. Strategies for reducing calories and added sugars also involves choosing foods which have no added sugars or non-nutritive sweeteners – such as vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, and non or low-fat dairy.”

The authors believe that well-designed human studies that address the specific, practical, public health issues related to artificial sweeteners are needed.

Written by Christian Nordqvist