Can artificial sweeteners really help us lose weight?

My SEED column this week focuses on artificial sweeteners. Can switching to artificial sweeteners help solve the obesity problem in the U.S.? Here's a snippet:

Saunders says an August report from the American Heart Association (AHA) made it quite clear that excessive sugar consumption is dangerous, and he argues that sugar should be seen as a toxic substance. But how much is too much? The new AHA guidelines suggest limiting added sugar to no more than half of discretionary calories--calories consumed after basic nutritional needs are met. For the average male, Saunders says, this works out to about 150 calories per day: one can of Coke, or one candy bar. No free refills.

Again, the answer seems obvious: Just switch to diet drinks. They taste about the same, but with no sugar and no calories. Not so fast, says BikeMonkey, an anonymous biomedical researcher and former bike racer who blogs at DrugMonkey. BikeMonkey cites a 2008 study published in Behavioral Neuroscience where rats were given either sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened yogurt in addition to their usual diet of rat chow. The rats who ate artificial sweeteners gained significantly more weight over five weeks than the rats who had sugar-sweetened yogurt.

There's much more to it than that, though. Click here to read the whole thing.

Also, in case you missed them, here are my picks for psychology and neuroscience posts from

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When I was diagnosed with diabetes (I've had iffy blood sugar my whole life) and stopped eating sugary and starchy foods, I immediately lost 40 pounds, over a two-month period, with no particular activity increase or decrease in fat intake. Of course, immediately before my diagnosis, I had been in the habit of drinking quite a bit of orange juice, on doctor's orders, because of a potassium-depleting blood pressure medication I was taking (both of which might have contributed substantially to my diabetes, incidentally).

I don't see in your article where you differentiate between different artificial sweeteners, either, or between artificial and natural low- or non-caloric sweeteners. Some artificial sweeteners have significant calories, for example granular Splenda, which is formulated with dextrose. Some natural sweeteners have few or no calories, for example erythritol, which has negligible calories, or stevia, which is used in such small quantities that it effectively has zero calories.

By speedwell (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink


The fact is, the research hasn't done much in that regard. There's not a lot out there to clarify the issue. I think it's always just been assumed that artificial sweeteners are better than sugar. The research focused on whether artificial sweeteners were harmful, not whether they were actually effective.

What I get from the studies I discuss in the article is that it's probably best to avoid both added sugar *and* artificial sweeteners.

OK, I understand. I would also, if only because of my orange juice experience, emphasize that any concentrated, refined sweeteners, such as fruit juices, share the same issues.

By speedwell (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

What does the research say about natural, very low calorie sweeteners like erythritol? Compared to table sugar it has 95% fewer calories and is about 70% as sweet. And there are no safety issues, like with Aspartame or Splenda.

Jeff, I've used erythritol as my exclusive sweetener for almost a year now. I don't like Splenda, can't stand the smallest particle of stevia, and don't trust aspartame or acesulfame-K. Tagatose is sweeter than erythitol, with the same low-glycemic and low-calorie aspects, but just TRY finding any, let alone any that's affordable, in household quantities. Other sugar alcohols have unacceptable digestive effects and/or a higher glycemic effect and/or have significant calories.

Part of the problem of studying the sugar alcohols is that the noise and misinformation tends to drown out the talk about the benefits, so it's hard to get a study funded. The money is in Splenda and NutraSweet at the moment. I just hope that it doesn't get hard to order erythritol; there's a sort of rocket fuel you can make by adding potassium nitrate to oxidise it. And we can't let the poor wittle citizens play with (gasp) dangerous chemicals in this country anymore.

By speedwell (not verified) on 04 Nov 2009 #permalink

Sugar is only a part of variouse foods we take daily. And still to consider others to loss weight. I don't have experience with artificial sweeteners but honey might help you. buat duit

Lucky for us, humans are not rats, and some of us can do basic math (addition/subtraction). To lose a pound of weight, you must create a deficit of 3500 Calories, either by restricting the number of calories you take in (eating less) or increasing the number of calories burned (exercise more), or (preferably) some combination of the two. If you use artificial sweeteners to help keep your caloric intake below a certain level, you will lose weight. If you simply replace sugary snacks or drinks with those containing artificial sugars and eat whatever else you want, you probably wonât lose weight (unless you were eating *a lot* of sugar before, in which case you might lose someâ¦). Artificial sweeteners are like guns â they are not inherently good or bad, they are tools that can be used or abused.

Hope, artificial sweeteners do have a real effect on your body, though. The question being asked here is whether or not those effects (after all, just about anything you do has biochemical consequences) have any bearing on weight-loss, or on general health. In particular, does drinking water make any difference to your weight loss than drinking diet coke, assuming a calorie restricted diet and suitable exercise in both cases?

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 08 Nov 2009 #permalink

Obesity in the US has sky-rocketed while at the same time sugar-free has been marketed like crazy. Generally when I see a sugar-free product, it's in the hands of a fat person. Certainly makes me wonder about its efficacy... heck, maybe its downfall isn't even the substance itself, but our psychology and how we handle the intake of "guilt-free" foods... but does it matter why it doesn't work? It just doesn't.

By A Greenhill (not verified) on 29 Dec 2009 #permalink

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