Some weight loss connoisseurs might swear by artificial sweeteners from dawn till dusk. After all, they are the healthier, no-calorie equivalent to real sugar, right? Not so fast. Aside from being one of the foods nutritionists never eat, a new report suggests that sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose might have the opposite effect, making you gain weight instead of lose it. The horror! (You might want to try these healthy snacks for weight loss, instead.)
Researchers reviewed 37 studies, including both randomized (short-term) and observational (long-term) trials. While the results in the randomized trials found no significant impact of sweetener use on body mass index (BMI), the observational studies noted a small increase in BMI tied to the use of sweeteners. These studies also reported a 14 percent higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes and a 32 percent higher chance of cardiovascular troubles for the heaviest compared to the lightest users.
“We were really interested in the everyday person who is consuming these products not to lose weight, but because they think it’s the healthier choice, for many years on end,” Meghan Azad, lead author of the review and a research scientist at the University of Manitoba, said. At the moment, “there is no clear benefit for weight loss, and there’s a potential association with increased weight gain, diabetes and other negative cardiovascular outcomes.”
Scientists still aren’t sure why artificial sweeteners have such a negative impact on our health. Some hypothesize that the sweet stuff could increase our craving for sugary foods, change the way our bodies handle real sugar, or alter our metabolism for the worse. On the other hand, if we feel proud for turning up our nose at real sugar, we may feel tempted to cheat on our diets later on. (Here’s what happens to your body if you stop eating artificial sweeteners for good.)
These results don’t indicate a direct cause and effect relationship, of course; lots of different habits and lifestyles can determine overall health. And having a diet soda every once in awhile won’t kill you, ultimately. However, it can benefit your long term health by making some simple changes to your diet. Azad recommends nixing your sweet tooth entirely and opting for more savory alternatives, such as plain or fruit-infused water, black coffee, or plain yogurt mixed with fruit. You can try these swaps for dramatic weight loss, too.