We know artificial sweeteners aren’t always the most natural choice. That combo of chems we stir into our coffee certainly isn't a wholefood. However, they’re still handy for that pre-summer shred, right? New science suggests we could have it all wrong.
It would make sense that no kilojoules = no weight gain, right? Unfortunately for diet drink fans out there, it’s not that simple. A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found artificial sweeteners may be associated with long-term weight gain, increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Not an ideal combo.
The study reviewed 37 studies on artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and yep, even the beloved natural alternative - stevia. "We found that data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management,” said study author Dr Ryan Zarychanski from the University of Manitoba. In fact, the study claims they can actually result in extra kilos. “Observational data suggests that routine intake of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk,” study authors concluded.
What’s interesting is that there are some suspect side effects – whether you struggle with your weight or not. While seven of the studies examined the effects of sweeteners on overweight individuals, the other 30 observational studies looked at the general population. In these 30 studies, scientists found a link between the sweeteners and gaining weight and becoming obese in the future.
So why do the scientists reckon these sweeteners are having the reverse effect? This particular study wasn’t focused on the causes. However, past studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may trick your body. It's expecting to get a kilojoule-rich feed, so when it doesn’t you end up feeling hungrier. Cue: caving to those 9pm chocolate cravings. There’s also research being conducted into the effect of sweeteners on gut bacteria. Less diverse gut bac may be linked to weight gain, too.
Addicted to your faux-sweet hit? You don’t necessarily need to cleanse your pantry yet – studies are still underway. Instead, "caution is warranted until the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners are fully characterised," says lead study author Dr Meghan Azad at the University of Manitoba. Stay tuned.