Do Artificial Sweeteners Really Do Anything For Weight Loss? New Paper Weighs In
by Tony on Nov 13, 2015
Low energy sweeteners (LES), such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, have been a hot topic of discussion for a long time. Do they actually work as intended? That is, what effect do they have on energy intake (EI) and body weight (BW)? Many studies over the past 30 years have looked into these questions, but there's never been clear agreement. The most we could say was that switching from sugar to LES, specially in drinks, can help reduce EI over the short term. We don't know anything more substantial than that; there's not enough evidence. At least, not until now.
Professor Peter Rogers from the University of Bristol and his fellow authors have published a paper showing definitive evidence of the benefits of LES over the short and long term. The paper is a systematic review of studies in animals and humans consuming LES and it was recently published in the International Journal of Obesity. By reviewing over 300 studies, the authors conclude that use of LES in children and adults does indeed lead to reduced EI and BW.
The findings are important because we know that proper energy balance leads to weight loss. If we take more energy than we can expend by eating too much, this extra energy is stored in the body as fat. Low energy sweeteners are such a great deal because they come with the promise of reducing sugar and energy intake without sacrificing that sweetness we're all so fond of. But a number of studies have suggested the opposite: that LES are a risk factor of obesity and overeating.
Since these unfavorable studies were based on a selection of animal and observational studies, we would need to look into a larger body of evidence with many different designs, settings and populations to see if this view is supported by the literature as a whole. That's exactly what Peter Rogers and his colleagues have done, and the answer they reached is that these negative effects are limited to a few specific settings. For the most part, LES do have a positive effect on reducing EI and BW.
But there's another argument against LES. Sure, they may reduce EI in the short term, but what if they actually increase appetite in the process, leading people to eat more? The paper also deals with that by reviewing the effects of LES beverages versus water, as well as LES versus unsweetened products and LES versus nothing.
The results are surprising: not only are the effects on EI and BW largely the same whether you take LES or water, some evidence suggests that LES beverages actually lead to greater weight loss than water. Why? It might be because switching from sugar to LES is easier than switching to water, leading to greater success in dietary goals.
Source: University of Bristol