Artificial sweeteners may be doing more harm than good

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  Last updated January 9, 2020 at 1:46 pm

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It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but artificial sweeteners may be causing weight gain and contribute to type 2 diabetes.


When it comes to artificial sweeteners, consumers are getting the opposite of what they expect. Credit: Sharon Pruitt / EyeEm




Why This Matters: Sticking to a healthy diet is a better option than artificial sweeteners.




A $2.2 billion industry to help people lose weight through artificial sweeteners may actually be contributing to type 2 diabetes.


A review, by researchers from the University of South Australia, reveals that people who use low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) are more likely to gain weight, the exact opposite of what consumers expect.


This is despite controlled clinical trials showing that artificial sweeteners do lead to weight loss.


Low-calorie sweeteners are used in place of sucrose, glucose and fructose. They have an intense sweet flavour without the calories, but recent studies have highlighted potential adverse health effects.




Also: Back to Basics on Sugars, Fats and Obesity




LCS usage has increased significantly


Lead researcher Peter Clifton, says that in the past 20 years there has been an increase of 200 per cent in LCS usage among children. There has been a 54 per cent increase among adults.


Clifton says a US study of 5158 adults over a seven-year period found that those who consumed large quantities of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users.


“Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar. They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favourite foods.”


Artificial sweeteners may lead to a risk of type 2 diabetes


“Artificial sweeteners also change the gut bacteria which may lead to weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes,” he says.




Also: Gut bacteria can negatively influence our blood sugar levels




Artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) are also linked with increased risks of death and cardiovascular disease, and strokes and dementia among older people, but it is not clear why.


Clifton cites 13 studies which investigated the effects of ASB intake on the risk of type 2 diabetes, all of which found either no link or a positive one. One study found that substituting ASB for sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices was associated with a 5-7 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.


“A better option than low-calorie sweeteners is to stick to a healthy diet, which includes plenty of whole grains, dairy, seafood, legumes, vegetables and fruits and plain water,”  Clifton says.


The research is published in the journal Current Atherosclerosis Reports.


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