But that’s not the whole story!
Studies on artificial sweeteners are challenging because it’s hard to separate causality from correlation. Is someone gaining weight because they’re consuming artificially sweetened foods, or are they gaining weight because their overall calorie intake is still higher than their calorie expenditure? And do people in studies behave differently than they normally would because they know they’re in a study?
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics examined several studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners on weight and concluded (quite anticlimactically) that, “Currently, available data provide, at best, modest support for a modest effect on weight with NNS [nonnutritive sweetener] use, with many important caveats to the available published findings…” Well, that hardly clears things up.
But wait. Again and again we see evidence and studies that back up the common-sense principle that artificial sweeteners can help people to lose weight if their consumption still results in fewer calories consumed. There are studies that show artificial sweeteners, when replacing other calories, can lead to weight loss, and people seem less likely to compensate for calories in artificially sweetened beverages than artificially sweetened foods.
The American Diabetes Association agrees with a lot of research that says artificial sweeteners can help with weight loss provided that they facilitate an overall decrease in calories consumed. Not a show-stopping conclusion, but the long and short of the matter is that when calories burned exceed calories consumed, weight is lost. Artificially sweetened foods can be part of a successful weight-loss strategy so long as someone has enough awareness and control not to compensate for calories saved with other calories (sweetened or otherwise).
One more benefit
While artificial sweeteners aren’t a no-fail route to weight loss, they won’t raise blood sugar since they are not carbohydrates. That can be a huge plus for people with diabetes trying to count carbohydrates or simply enjoy a sweet treat without blowing their entire carb allowance for the day.
So… it looks like all we know for sure is that we have to burn more calories than we take in if we want to lose weight, regardless of whether or not we use artificial sweeteners. And while diet and nutrition advice seem to change all the time, the reality is that guidelines for eating right and exercising don’t change nearly as quickly as they seem to. Eating more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and reducing our sugar intake is key to both weight loss and optimal health.
Artificial sweeteners may play a role in weight loss if used to satisfy our cravings for sweets without causing us to overindulge later, but they’re not a miracle cure. They’re best when used, like all things, in moderation.
Stay healthy, friends!
Have you been served regular soda when you asked for diet? “Next” for how to tell the difference.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.