Do Artificial Sweeteners Help You Lose Weight?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in artificial sweeteners and weight loss, Blood Sugar, Diet Soda and Health

Sucralose and Weight Loss

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Do artificial sweeteners help you lose weight?

It’s a puzzle. We are drinking more artificially sweetened foods and sodas than ever. We’ve been told that those artificially sweeteners will help us cut calories and keep us slender. Yet, surprisingly, we’re fatter than ever.

Let me put some numbers to that statement. The number of people consuming calorie free sodas in the US alone increased from 70 million to 260 million between 1987 and 2000. During that same time period, the percentage of overweight adults in this country increased from 52% to 66%; the percentage of obese adults increased from 20% to 32%; and the percentage of obese children increased from 10% to 17%. Clearly something isn’t working.

And, it may just be the artificial sweeteners that aren’t working. A study published in 2007 (R. Dingra et al, Circulation, 116: 480-484, 2007 ) showed that people consuming regular (sugar containing) sodas were 48% more likely to become obese over a four-year period than people who primarily drank water. That wasn’t surprising. The surprising finding from this study was that people who consumed diet sodas were just as likely to become obese as those drinking regular sodas.

Now you may be saying: “Wait a minute. I thought I read that consuming diet sodas actually helps people lose weight.” The answer is that in those studies dietitians rigorously controlled the caloric intake from other foods so that the only caloric difference was between the diet sodas and the regular sodas. Under those conditions the results are fairly obvious. Fewer calories from sodas = weight loss. But those aren’t the results that you see in free living populations where you don’t have a dietitian peering over your shoulder. In those populations people consuming diet sodas tend to take in the same number of total calories overall and gain just as much weight as people drinking regular sodas.

 

Do Artificial Sweeteners Prevent Weight Loss?

 

Obviously, people consuming diet sodas which contain artificial sweeteners must compensate by consuming extra calories from other foods. But, why are they consuming those extra calories? Some experts hypothesize that the answer is physiological. The sweet taste of the diet sodas triggers the release of insulin, which drives down blood sugar levels and makes people hungrier. Other experts hypothesize that the answer is psychological. People simply feel virtuous for consuming the diet sodas and feel they can now splurge somewhere else.

do artificial sweeteners help you lose weightAnimal studies have suggested that the cause may actually be physiological. Those studies have shown that there are “sweetness receptors” in the intestine that respond to the sweetness of sugars and trigger an increase in the level of proteins that transport sugars from the intestine into the bloodstream. That makes great sense from an evolutionary point of view. If we’re eating a low carbohydrate diet we really don’t want to waste a lot of energy producing proteins that transport sugars into our bloodstream. However, whenever we eat foods high in carbohydrates we don’t want to waste that carbohydrate. So, our intestine rapidly breaks the carbohydrates down to simple sugars, and our body responds by increasing our ability to transport those simple sugars into the bloodstream.

This can lead to blood sugar swings and increased food cravings. You’ve heard about the blood sugar swings associated with meals high in simple sugars. When sugars enter the bloodstream very rapidly, blood sugar levels increase, which causes insulin to be secreted. The insulin drives down blood sugar levels, leading to hypoglycemia and increased hunger. That’s a highly simplified scenario, but you get the general idea.

Now the interesting thing is that animal studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners are also recognized by the intestinal “sweetness receptors”. So artificial sweeteners also trigger an increase in the intestinal sugar transporters and prime the body so that blood sugar swings are more likely to occur whenever we eat carbohydrates.

While the results from animal studies have been very consistent with this model, the results from human clinical studies have been mixed. Some studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners do increase the likelihood of blood sugar swings, while other studies have reported that artificial sweeteners have no effect on blood glucose and insulin levels.

With this in mind, do artificial sweeteners help you lose weight?  Let’s continue to investigate.

 

Do Artificial Sweeteners Help You Lose Weight?

 

A recent study (M.Y. Pepinoet al, Diabetes Care, 36: 2530-2535, 2013 ) provides a possible explanation for these conflicting results. This study was similar to many of the previous studies in that obese adults were given either sucralose (an artificial sweetener) or water 10 min before being given a fixed amount of glucose, and blood sugar and insulin levels were followed over the next five hours. What made this study unique was that overweight participants were selected who did not normally consume artificially sweetened beverages or foods (Those people are hard to find in the overweight US population).

artificial sweetenersAnd the results were fairly clear-cut. The participants consuming sucralose prior to the glucose load had a 20% greater increase in blood sugar levels, a 20% greater increase in the amount of insulin produced, and significantly lower blood sugar levels three hours after the glucose load than participants consuming water prior to the glucose load. In the words of the authors: “These data suggest that sucralose ingestion is not physiologically inert but affects the glycemic [blood sugar] response to oral glucose load and potentiates glucose stimulated insulin secretion in obese people.” Basically, what they are saying is that sucralose primes their bodies so that they are more likely to experience blood sugar swings when they subsequently consume carbohydrates. [And that can lead to food cravings and weight gain.]

The authors hypothesized that some previous studies had not found an effect of artificial sweeteners on blood sugar and insulin levels because most of the people in those studies were already consuming artificially sweetened beverages on a regular basis and their intestinal sugar transport proteins were already maximally stimulated. Basically, what they are saying is that when someone is regularly consuming artificial sweeteners the damage has already been done (sugar transport is already maximal), and a single dose of an artificial sweetener will not have any significant additional effect.

So, do artificial sweeteners help you lose weight?  I think you know.

 

The Bottom Line

 

It has become clear in recent years that artificially-sweetened diet sodas and diet foods are not effective at preventing weight gain, and may, in fact, contribute to weight gain. There is also increasing evidence that artificially-sweetened diet sodas may be harmful to our health. In fact, an international consortium of obesity experts recently concluded: “The absence of evidence to support the role of artificially sweetened beverages in preventing weight gain and the lack of studies on their long-term effects on health strengthen the position that artificially-sweetened beverages should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet.”

 

However, the reason why diet sodas appear to promote obesity rather than prevent it has remained elusive.

  • A recent study suggests that sucralose (and presumably other artificial sweeteners) triggers a complex serious of metabolic responses that lead to increased appetite and food cravings.
  • However, this is just one small study. Many more studies will be required before we understand why artificial sweeteners promote obesity, rather than prevent it.
  • However, it is clear that artificial sweeteners are not the simple, magical solutions for weight control that food manufacturers and advertisers would have you believe.
    • There are unresolved safety issues with all the artificial sweeteners – but that’s another subject for another day.
    • There is no convincing evidence that artificial sweeteners actually help you lose weight unless you are very carefully controlling the calories from all the other foods you’re eating – and if you’re doing that successfully, you probably don’t need artificial sweeteners in the first place.
    • There is some evidence that artificial sweeteners may actually cause blood sugar swings and make you hungrier, thus making it harder – not easier – to control your weight.
  • The best solution to weight control is always true lifestyle change that includes exercise, healthy foods, and reduced caloric intake and is not based on gimmicks or artificial ingredients.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (1)

  • Merlena Cushing

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    Great article, as always. I appreciate so much your diligence in research and willingness to share your wisdom. You and Suzanne are a blessing to us in the field. Am looking forward to the Product Talk Call on the new Performance line tonight. Have the flyers, but thought sending a link to the call might be helpful to some of our customers.

    Reply

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Latest Article

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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