Major medical groups back sweeteners as diet aid

July 9, 2012 By Amanda Gardner, HealthDay Reporter
Major medical groups back sweeteners as diet aid
Top heart and diabetes organizations endorse their use -- with a caveat on 'compensating' with high-calorie foods.

(HealthDay) -- Non-nutritive sweeteners like Splenda, Equal and Sweet'N Low may have a role to play in maintaining or even losing weight, as long as people don't use them as an excuse to treat themselves later with high-calorie goodies.

That endorsement of six as a dietary aid came in a scientific statement released Monday by two major health organizations, the and the .

"There may be a benefit to people who use them smartly and who don't compensate later in the day and negate the benefit," said Christopher Gardner, lead author of the new scientific statement.

According to background information in the document, which is being published simultaneously in the journals Circulation and , some 6,000 foods and beverages on the U.S. market contain at least one of the six available non-nutritive sweeteners.

Four of them -- sucralose (Splenda), acesuflame-K, neotame (made by NutraSweet) and saccharin (Sweet'N Low) -- are and are regulated as food additives by the U.S. (FDA). Aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet) is composed of three and stevia is a plant derivative, so technically both are not considered "artificial," but they do have , Gardner explained.

Regardless of where they come from, non-nutritive sweeteners have become increasingly popular. In 1965, only 3 percent of Americans used them in their diet; by 2004, 15 percent did.

That rise in popularity, however, has not been accompanied by a decrease in the consumption of added sugars, which contribute to obesity, diabetes and a host of other health woes, the scientific statement noted.

Overall, the scientific literature on non-nutritive sweeteners is scant, but there is some evidence that drinking a zero-calorie in place of a sugary soda may help reduce calories.

Neither beverage has any nutritional value, but people who drink diet beverages are not likely to compensate with cookies or other empty calories later in the day, Gardner said.

On the other hand, he added, people who eat foods containing non-nutritive sweeteners are more likely to compensate with sugar-laced items later in the day.

At this point, it's not clear what effect non-nutritive sweeteners may have on actual weight loss or gain or total calorie or carbohydrate intake or if they have any effect on other risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

But there is some evidence (largely anecdotal) that consuming products with non-nutritive sweeteners can help people with diabetes monitor their sugar intake, a key component of managing diabetes, Gardner said.

"Picking diet sodas over sodas or even picking foods with non-nutritive sweeteners can have a direct impact on sugar intake and [can be used] as a viable tool to get people to monitor their sugar intake," he said.

Similarly, if you're planning on having coffee anyway, "using a blue or yellow or pink packet, that'll help," Gardner said.

Overall, though, non-nutritive sweeteners are probably not the ultimate answer for keeping a healthy weight and staying healthy.

"I don't think they're the magic bullet for weight loss," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

Statement author Gardner agreed. "If people are counting on this as the way to control calories and sugar, this isn't it," he said. "The bigger impact has to be from an overall healthy diet. You're never going to turn a junk food into a health food just because you eliminated the sugar content. You never find non-nutritive sweeteners in carrots, broccoli or kidney beans, all the things we tell people to eat."

Explore further: Fat substitutes linked to weight gain

More information: The American Heart Association has more on healthy eating.


Related Stories

Fat substitutes linked to weight gain

June 20, 2011
Synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips and other foods could backfire and contribute to weight gain and obesity, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

Diet soda doesn't make you fat -- it's the extra food

July 4, 2011
You are making a healthier choice when opting for a diet soda instead of a calorie-laden drink, but beware that you don’t sabotage your good behavior by indulging in extra-calorie foods, said an obesity specialist at ...

Recommended for you

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.