Using artificial sweeteners is supposed to help avoid health problems related to obesity, but the latest study of them doesn’t make clear if non-sugar sweeteners really help you – or maybe even hurt you.
The meta-analysis published in the BMJ examined about 56 studies of artificial sweeteners. The results showed no difference in weight loss, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease or cognitive function between those who took the non-sugar sweetener and those who use regular sugar.
The results did not surprise Dr. Nareej Badhey. “There’s never been uniformity or well-done studies on these artificial sweeteners,” said the cardiologist with Texas Health HEB and Texas Health Physicians Group. “You have a few studies here and there that show one outcome and you have other studies that show a completely different outcome.”
Given their widespread use already in foods, Badhey advises his patients to minimize use of artificial sweeteners. Regular sugar or any natural sweeteners is better if used in moderation. Better still, no sugar at all.
“Unfortunately as a society,” said Dr. Badhey, “we’re so ingrained growing up into sugar from candy stores to cakes and dessert that it’s hard to do, but that would be the best decision.”
Widespread use of artificial sweeteners: "They’re all over. Preserved foods. Non-sugar desserts, obviously. And there’s some study out there that’s being laced in tobacco as well. Which, then brings you to the idea that it has addictive properties to it. And as widely as they're used, the debate has always been conflicting. You have a few studies here and there that show one outcome and you have other studies that show a completely different outcome."
The latest research: "It’s a meta-analysis. They looked at about 14,000 records and compared apples to apples and came up with about 56 studies. It shows there’s really no difference in weight loss, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, your cognitive function. There’s really no difference who took the non-sugar sweetener versus the regular sugar. You would think if you had a non-sugar sweetener with zero calories, you should lose weight – thereby less diabetes, thereby have less cardiovascular and kidney disease. But that doesn’t really translate in this meta-analysis."
- "We trick ourselves. The artificial sweetener is zero calories, so you kind of cheat yourself into thinking you can have more."
- "The sweeteners are very potent. They’re about 400 to 600 times sweeter than regular sugar ounce to ounce. Some people say they overstimulate your sugar receptors, so you tend to not like nutritious, less-sweet food like natural-sweetened fruits, for example. You tend not to like those and they’re healthy with low-glycemic indexes. So your body is trained to not like that, and you eat less nutritious foods."
- "We have no idea how this changes your metabolism. I don’t think that question’s been completely answered, but that may be a contributing factor as well."
What he tells patients about sweeteners: "Try to minimize the use, if they use it at all. We know for a fact based on meta-analysis it doesn’t help you achieve anything you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s weight loss or control diabetes. Whether it harms you long term, I think the jury’s out on that one. When you have something that doesn’t help you, why use it? I won’t say these cause you to gain weight, but they’re definitely not helping you to lose weight. But if it’s not helping you to maintain your weight and your diabetes is out of control, that will lead to heart vascular disease."
Should people give up sugar and sweeteners altogether? "I would urge people to give up sugar if they could. Unfortunately as a society, we’re so ingrained growing up into sugar for candy stores to cakes and dessert that it’s hard to do, but that would be the best decision."