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Artificial Sweeteners Are Good For Cutting Calories, If You Use Them Correctly

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Artificial sweeteners are great for maintaining taste while cutting the calories, but they can work against you if you’re not careful.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved eight sugar substitutes as safe for consumption. Maggy Boyd, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, says they can help with blood sugar control or weight loss plans when used correctly. But if not, weight gain and even some health risks are possible.

Interview Highlights

Health benefits of artificial sweeteners: I don’t know if there’s necessarily health benefits, but these artificial sweeteners can be used to optimize your blood sugar control by consuming less real sugar, or it can help promote weight loss when substituting these sugar-free, calorie-free sweeteners for their counterparts that are the real sugar versions.

Any we should avoid: All eight sugar substitutes are safe for consumption as long as you aren't exceeding the acceptable daily intake. For each of those, there’s a maximum amount you can consume in a day. For instance, you would have to eat 75 packets of Equal or 25 packets of Splenda in a day to even reach those amounts.

Health risks: If you’re over-consuming those sweeteners or using some not approved by the FDA, there could definitely be health risks. These artificial sweeteners aren’t entirely absorbed by the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, so you could have GI symptoms: diarrhea, bloating, nausea, vomiting, if you consume too much of these.

Weight gain: Sugar-free substitutes don’t contain calories. Sometimes when individuals use them, they think they have "saved" calories. That can lead to weight gain when you’re using the substitute as an excuse to eat more. But if you them in an overall calorie restricted plan, you can lose weight. 

Resources

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.