Artificial sweeteners have recently come under scrutiny for causing weight gain, but are the claims true?
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are otherwise known as 'non-nutritive' sweeteners, and are used as a calorie free alternative to sugar. They are commonly added to foods or beverages to replicate a sweet taste without the added calories: these products are often referred to as 'diet', 'low calorie' or 'sugar free'. Artificial sweeteners that may be used in Australia include:
Acesulphame A (950) e.g. Hermesetas Gold or Sunnett
Alitame (956) e.g. Aclame
Aspartame (951) e.g. Equal, Hermesetas Gold or Nutrasweet
Cyclamate (952) e.g. Sucaryl
Saccharin (954) e.g. Hermesetas, Sugarella, Sugarine, Sweetex
Sucralose (955) e.g. Splenda
Can artificial sweeteners impact our weight?
The scientific evidence around this is largely inconclusive, however there is currently no evidence to show that intake of artificial sweeteners causes weight gain. In fact, there is some evidence to show that artificial sweeteners can actually aid in weight loss. This is because in order to lose weight we need to reduce the total amount of energy that we are consuming: a simple way to do this is by swapping from sugar sweetened products to artificially sweetened products. Each gram of regular sugar contains 4kcal/g, whereas sweetener contains 0kcal/g, so for every tsp of sugar we are saving around 16 calories.
Do artificial sweeteners confuse our metabolic processes?
Some people have been saying that consumption of artificial sweeteners causes a disruption in our metabolism because a signal is sent to our brain that sugar is coming, but it never does. These claims also suggest that intake of artificial sweeteners can significantly sharpen sugar cravings. Neither of these claims have been proven to be true.
Can artificial sweeteners impact our eating habits elsewhere?
This is an important factor to highlight as some individuals may find that the swap to sweeteners may encourage them to overeat elsewhere. This is because some people may inadvertently give themselves permission to ‘make up’ for the saved calories in their intake elsewhere e.g. someone may choose a diet coke over a regular coke and may take that as permission to consume a whole block of chocolate later in the day. Thus in order to reap the benefits of the switch it’s important to remember that your diet should ideally be healthy and balanced otherwise.
So what is the take home message regarding artificial sweeteners and weight?
There is no direct evidence to conclude that intake of artificial sweeteners causes weight gain, however consideration of how consumption may impact our dietary behaviors elsewhere should be taken. It’s important to remember that artificial sweeteners are largely found in our heavily processed and packaged foods, all of which should be consumed in moderate amounts anyway. Sweeteners can be used as an effective replacement for sugar to reduce total energy intake and aid in weight loss, however this should be paired with an otherwise healthy and balanced diet in order to reap these benefits.
If you are confused as to whether artificial sweeteners are right for you, contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian to obtain a full assessment.
Accredited Practising Dietitian