Can Artificial Sweeteners Aid Weight Loss?

January 20, 2011

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caloriesOn the surface, substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may seem like a great way to reduce calorie intake. After all, the typical American consumes some 150 pounds of sugar in its various forms per year. That’s a lot of empty calories that could seemingly be eliminated by just switching to an artificial sweetener.

But somehow, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. In fact, as the number of artificial sweeteners and products made from them has increased, so have the obesity rates! If artificial sweeteners could help, one would expect the exact opposite to be true.

So why aren’t they helping? For reasons we have yet to understand, even though these sweeteners don’t contain any calories, the brain and body don’t seem to perceive them as having zero calories.

One theory is that these artificial sweeteners are somehow still processed by the body as if they did contain calories. Another theory is that the artificial sweeteners increase hunger and cravings, thus leading to a higher overall calorie intake. Either way, I don’t believe they help much with weight loss, and in fact may mislead people into thinking they are eating healthier than they really are.

Take, for example, the wide variety of artificially sweetened cake, cookies, and other products. They may not contain calories from sugar, but when you carefully read the labels, these foods often contain just as much fat and calories, or more, as the original version.

Diet sodas, artificially sweetened flavored waters, and the like are another weight loss mistake. The carbonation these beverages contain stretches the stomach and triggers a release of a hormone known as ghrelin, which increases hunger and cravings. I’d much rather see my patients reach for water to quench their thirst than any of these chemically laden beverages.

My advice? It’s far better to eat something made with real cane sugar in moderation and to factor the calories into your overall daily intake rather than to swap the real thing for something made with artificial sweeteners, thinking you can eat more because it has fewer calories. Unfortunately, as much as we wish it did, it just doesn’t seem to work that way.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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Comments (5)

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Kathy Asbery

So do you recommend using real sugar in coffee and tea or to use the artificial substitute in those beverages??

[…] options like fruit juice, milk, smoothies, and coffee drinks can be surprisingly calorie-dense. Artificially sweetened beverages may not have calories, but can lead to other health issues. Try drinking water or iced tea […]

[…] zero calories. If you absolutely must doctor them up, stick to skim milk and a measured amount of real cane sugar and make sure to factor those calories into your daily […]

[…] milk, or alcoholic beverages, you’ll shave hundreds more calories off your daily total. Avoid diet drinks too, which may not have any calories but have been shown to increase cravings and appetite. If you […]

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