The researchers crunched the numbers from 37 studies involving over 406,000 participants—seven were randomized-control trials, the “gold standard” of research where one group received the treatment and the other a placebo, and 30 were cohort studies, where people are followed for a set amount of time to gauge their risk of disease.
They concluded that artificial sweeteners had no significant effect on body mass index (BMI) in the randomized control trials. In the observational studies, they determined that consuming artificial sweeteners actually led to slight increases in BMI, weight, and waist circumference. It was also linked to higher levels of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart events, and metabolic syndrome.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that artificial sweeteners are safe, and can be used to regulate calorie intake to help manage weight, the study says. But this research—as well as previous experiments—questions that advice. It’s possible that the sweeteners can affect the way your body metabolizes sugar, mess with the good bacteria in your gut, and can even influence your appetite.
One reason? Artificial sweeteners taste much sweeter than regular sugar—up to 1,000 times as much, in fact. When you take in that sweet taste, your body thinks high-energy food is to follow, Yanina Pepino, Ph.D., a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine explained to us in our investigation of artificial sweeteners on weight control. So it triggers a hormonal response to prepare for it.
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When you don’t get that calorie surge, your body may feel less satisfied—triggering our appetites and possibly prompting us to search for more substantial food.
Still, there are a lot of uncertainties about artificial sweeteners and weight gain, and some studies continue to show conflicting results with it. So while more research does need to be done, it doesn’t hurt to work on reducing the added stuff from your diet—whether zero-calorie artificial sweeteners or regular sugar.
Start by gradually reducing the amount of sweetener you use to give your taste buds time to adjust, says Kelley Bradshaw, R.D., L.D.N., a dietitian in the Center for Endocrinology, Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center. The process could take anywhere from a few months to a year.
Additional reporting by Cindy Kuzma
The article This Common Weight Loss Food Might Actually Be Giving You a Gut originally appeared on Life Online.