I recently had the chance to interact with many of my colleagues at my state dietetic association meeting where I was sharing information about low calorie sweeteners. I was impressed with the number of people who shared my frustration at how studies about low calorie sweeteners are so often over-extrapolated, taken out of context, or otherwise “spun” by both journalists and (in some cases) health “experts” alike.
As science-based nutrition professionals, it is our responsibility to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to evaluating the efficacy of low calorie sweeteners. This can be an arduous task given the plethora of media hype that surrounds this topic. Headlines such as: “Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain,“ “Can Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat,” “Study: Artificial Sweeteners Increase Weight Gain Odds,” or “Fake Sweeteners, Lack of Calories May Trick Brain” are creatively written to grab the general public’s attention, using the counter intuitive “a ha” factor as the hook. The distinction between credentialed registered dietitians/nutritionist vs. self-proclaimed nutritionists is that we credit ourselves with having the educational background, founded in science, to form our professional opinions based on the evidence, NOT emotion.... looking beyond the headlines.
So taking the hype and the emotion out of these headlines, let’s briefly look at the evidence.
- Myth: Low calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame, cause weight gain.
Fact: Trial after trial consistently demonstrates that substituting aspartame and other low calorie sweeteners for caloric sweeteners are associated with modest weight loss.
- Myth: Low calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame, increase desire for sweets, promote hunger, and decrease satiety. Proponents of this myth claim that LCS confuse our taste preferences, leading to altered taste perception and a preference for high-calorie, sweet-tasting foods and beverages.
Fact: Studies on humans (as opposed to rats) show that including low calorie sweeteners like aspartame have no impact on satiety and do not increase desire for sweets.
- Myth: Low calorie sweeteners, such as aspartame, promote Metabolic Syndrome, glucose intolerance, and increased risk of diabetes.
Fact: Aspartame has no effect on blood sugar levels, or on risk of Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes.
For a summary of supporting data refuting the myths, click here
Nelda Mercer, MS, RD, FADA, is a nutrition communications consultant in Ann Arbor, MI.
She regularly provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.