Do artificial sweeteners make you gain weight? Here's what you need to know
- 1 Minute Read
Do artificial sweeteners make you gain weight? They make food taste sweet without getting calories from sugar. And, according to the standards for food additive safety, they don't appear to increase cancer risk. So what's all the scuttlebutt about?
Artificial sweeteners have been around for a while. Saccharin was first produced in 1879. Initially, saccharin was used mostly for diabetic foods, to help people with type 1 diabetes control their carbohydrate intake. Cyclamates were identified in the 1930s and used in some of the first diet soft drinks, like Fresca. Created by accident in a chemical lab, aspartame is still widely used in soft drinks and foods. Sucralose and stevia are currently popular, naturally derived sweeteners.
The different types of artificial sweeteners don't have much in common other than the sweet taste. Chemically, they are very different from one another. These chemical differences affect their performance and reactions in certain types of foods. Artificial sweeteners are all tested for safety for use as food additives. The definition of "safety" is limited to cancer risk.
Artificial sweeteners are promoted as weight-loss aids, but some researchers suspect that artificial sweeteners actually make you gain weight. Animal research suggests that sweet tastes, whether from sugar or artificial sweeteners, tells your metabolism to get ready to digest carbohydrates. Hormones are secreted, but there's nothing for the hormones to do if real calories never show up. When this effect happens over and over, day after day, metabolism is disrupted. So do artificial sweeteners make you gain weight? Maybe. But perhaps they just keep consumers in plateau mode instead of really losing pounds, and here's why.
Artificial sweeteners do not trigger satiety or brain-reward signals. If you were hungry before drinking a diet soft drink, you're still hungry. Such effects possibly drive people to eat more to make up for the real-calorie deficiency, disrupted hormones, and lack of satiety. Companies that manufacture artificial sweeteners object to these ideas.
People who choose artificially sweetened foods are already trying to lose weight. However, they may view it as an excuse to eat high-calorie treats because they've "saved" calories using artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, rewarding yourself with a 600-calorie ice cream sundae after saving 150 calories on an artificially sweetened soft drink doesn't result in calorie reduction.
Only two things are certain-the controversy isn't going away, and artificial sweeteners aren't, either.
This blog was reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE on September 14, 2020.
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