Artificial sweeteners 'may be making people fat and increase risk of diabetes'

Toni Houston
July 18, 2017

Artificial sweeteners may not be the right solution to managing your weight.

However, it's possible this evidence review is blaming artificial sweeteners for health problems attributable to an otherwise poor diet or other unhealthy lifestyle choices, countered the Calorie Control Council.

The data found that people who regularly consume sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are more likely to develop health problems in the future. Importantly, there is not a single published randomised controlled trial, the gold standard in nutrition research, that has shown that low calorie sweeteners use can lead to weight gain or any negative health effect.

That said, with these observational studies it was impossible for researchers to find a causal link between fake sugars and any health outcomes, and the researchers noticed that the majority of studies published on the subject were done on people who ate lots of fake sugars; not many looked at people consuming the sorts of amounts more typical of an average person.

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"Over 40 per cent of adults are reporting using artificial sweeteners on a regular basis", said Azad.

Diabetes cropped up in most of the studies, too.

The intended benefits of artificial sweeteners - that is, weight loss and decreased obesity risk - were not observed among the overall findings.

Numerous clinical trials this study drew on didn't align closely with the way people consume such sweeteners in the real world - for instance, trials generally give subjects diet soda or sweetener capsules, while ignoring other sources, such as food.

Admittedly, both reviewed studies do have their strengths and weaknesses.

Considering that two-thirds of all adults in the US are overweight and about one-third are obese, many Americans are interested in shedding a few pounds. Jane Shearer, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary who is studying these sweeteners, notes the number of products that contain sugar substitutes has grown significantly in Canada in the past five years, with energy drinks, no-sugar-added ice creams, yogurt and even some bread products. The sweeteners could alter the way that gut microbes function in the digestion of food, or possibly change the body's metabolism over time by sending repeated false signals that something sweet has been ingested. "They may sharpen a sweet tooth, for example, prompting you to eat more sugary foods, or they may make you feel virtuous but then overcompensate later".

"I think that the main takeaway is really just that we need more understanding of what might be going on physiologically", she said.

Human trials concluded that there were no significant differences observed on insulin levels between groups consuming diet drinks and those consuming water.

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