Are Artificial Sweeteners good for weight loss?

artificial sweeteners lady reaction
Excessive sugar consumption is now recognized as being a major contributor to increasing rates of obesity (1), metabolic syndrome (2), diabetes(3), high cholesterol, heart disease (456), and even cancer (789,10).

In response, many people turn to artificial sweeteners  for use in soft drinks, candies, baked goods, ice cream and other sweet foods.

Since artificial sweeteners are near to  zero calorie, you might think  they would clearly aid weight loss, but that is debatable (11)

Besides weight loss, many Doctors and Nutritionists believe artificial sweeteners are  in fact very bad for your health (12,13).

We do not cover the  natural low-calorie sweeteners such as stevia,  xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and mannitol in this article.

Artificial Sweeteners and Appetite Regulation

hypothalamusSweet foods activate pathways in our brains that cause the release of  hormones.  This  is known as the “food reward” pathways (141516).

The satisfied feeling we get after eating sweets is due to this release of hormones, which is similar to other addictions like drugs (171819).

Artificial sweeteners fool our taste buds, but do not activate the same pathways in our brains to trigger the food reward.  As a result, cravings for more sugary foods is increased (20).

The hypothalamus is the appetite regulator in the brain.  Magnetic imaging shows decreased activity in the hypothalamus after consuming sugar drinks (21).

This decreased activity in the hypothalamus is not seen after consuming aspartame, indicating the food reward pathways have not been as fully activated.

The sweet taste is rewarding, but without the satiety it may be that you continue craving and end up consuming more calories.

Conclusion: It is possible that artificial sweeteners do not fully satisfy our cravings for sweets as well as sugar or other natural sweeteners that have calories.

Different Types of Artificial Sweeteners

2010-08-03-pie_chart_sweeteners_v21. Aspartame – (NutraSweet, Equal)
The FDA approved aspartame over 35 years ago. Today it’s found  in over  6,000 foods and drinks.  It isn’t heat-stable, so is not used in baked foods.

2. Sucralose (Splenda)
Sucralose is 600 times sweeter in sugar.  It is used in tabletop sweeteners and a variety of beverages, dairy products, fruits, syrups, and baked goods.

3. Acesulfame K (ACE, Sunette, Sweet ‘N Safe)
Acesulfame K is used in sugar-free chewing gum, candy, dairy products, and alcoholic beverages.  It’s also increasingly popular as a “flavor enhancer.”

4. Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
In the 1970s, saccharin was thought to  cause  bladder cancer.  This has since been disproven and the FDA has rescinded warning about it. Currently it’s used to sweeten children’s medications such as chewable aspirin, cough syrup, and other  medications.

Conclusion: There are many different artificial sweeteners, with the most common being aspartame, saccharin, sucralose , and cesulfame potassium

Increased  Sugar Cravings

sugar-cravings-diagramOpponents of artificial sweeteners sometimes argue that they increase sugar cravings (22).

The reasoning is that the option of a zero calorie diet soda causes people to drink more sodas than if the only option is a sugar filled 200 calorie soda.

There are no calories, and they satisfied their craving, so isn’t that a good thing?

Well, we know that our tastes are trained so we prefer more of things we eat regularly (23).

The more sweets we eat or drink, the more sweets we crave.

The reverse is also proven to be true.  For example, reducing salty or fat foods for a few weeks lowers our cravings for salty or fat foods (2425).

Conclusion: Overindulging in sweets because they have no added sugar calories just reinforces our cravings for sweets.

Artificial Sweeteners and Metabolic Health

Are-artificial-sweeteners-bad-for-diabetesH Some studies suggest frequent use of artificial sweeteners actually increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (26)

One study found that they increased  risk of metabolic syndrome by 34% (27).

Another study found that diet sodas increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 121% (28).

How these increased health problems occur may be explained by a recent study that shows zero calorie diet sodas alter the bacteria in our stomach (gut microbes) and induce glucose intolerance (29).

These gut microbes are key as there is evidence that many chronic metabolic diseases begin in gut, and that probiotics supplements can help weight loss  (3031).

Conclusion: Artificial Sweeteners may affect the millions of bacteria in our guts that direct our metabolism and influence a wide range of health problems, but the connection is difficult to prove and needs further study.

Artificial Sweeteners  aid Weight Loss

burn-fat-fast-waysIn studies where caloric intake was closely monitored and controlled, it is clear that use of artificial sweeteners instead of sugar does aid weight loss (3233).

Reviews of dozens of clinical trials found use of artificial sweeteners instead of sugar resulted in weight loss of about just under 2 pounds on average  (343536).

The largest study tracked 641  children of 4-11 years for 18 months.

Every day at lunch they were given 8 ounces of a high calorie sugary drink or a zero calorie artificially sweetened drink.

Those assigned to the  zero calorie drink gained on average 2.2 pounds less than the group that consumed the sugar drink (37).

Conclusion: In studies where portions are controlled and artificial sweeteners are used in place of sugar, they do have a modest effect on weight loss.

Final Thoughts

Artificial Sweeteners might not be as effective in satisfying cravings for sweets, and may even increase the cravings.

They may also contribute to health problems such as leaky gut syndrome, although no definitive proof yet exists.

However, if portions are controlled and they are simply used to replace a sugar filled  soda or fruit juice, and do not encourage greater consumption, then  artificial sweeteners have a slight positive effect in aiding weight loss.

The weight loss benefits are not overwhelming so the choice of sugar or artificial sweeteners is not critical for weight loss success.

The research IS overwhelming that excessive sugar consumption leads to myriad health problems, so your best bet is to avoid sweet foods and drinks  as much as possible.

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