The Low-Calorie Sweetener News You Don’t Always Get to Hear: Recent Studies Support Their Use for Weight and Diabetes Management

Low-calorie sweeteners are in the news practically on a daily basis, but despite the overwhelming evidence that they are safe and effective weight management tools, often reports are not positive and do not put low-calorie sweetener use into perspective. However, several recent studies have reaffirmed the benefits of low-calorie sweeteners for weight management – as well as for people with diabetes – that should be taken into consideration when evaluating the science.

The “Weight” of Evidence on Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Weight
A recent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and nine prospective cohort studies on low-calorie sweeteners and weight management, spanning 35 years. This represents the most comprehensive scientific evaluation of low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition studies to date. The authors found that substituting low-calorie sweetened beverages for their regular-calorie counterparts contributes to weight loss (Miller and Perez, 2014). 

In light of recent suggestions by some that low-calorie sweeteners may be linked to increased appetite and/or weight gain, a recent review published in Annual Review of Food Science and Technology looked at the idea and found that several intervention studies in both children and adults show that, when consumed in place of regular sweeteners, low-calorie sweeteners do not increase calorie intake, and in fact, can help reduce both calorie intake and body weight. (Fernstrom, 2014)

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Source: Center for Public Health and Nutrition at the University of Washington

Scientific Experts Weigh In on Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Weight, Microbiome, and more
Another recent study published in Nutrients also sought to address claims regarding a relationship between low-calorie sweeteners and weight gain. Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 1999 and 2008, which captured health and nutrition information from more than 22,000 people across the United States, giving the researchers a thorough view of how Americans who consume low-calorie sweeteners eat and exercise. Using the Healthy Eating Index, a USDA tool to compare an individual’s diet to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the researchers reviewed survey participants’ diets and found that low-calorie sweetener consumers had much higher Healthy Eating Index scores than those who did not consume low-calorie sweeteners. Analysis also showed that people who consume low-calorie sweeteners tend to be more physically active and are less likely to smoke than those who do not consume low-calorie sweeteners.

The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) of North America hosted a session at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in Boston in late March on “Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Health: What Does the Science Tell Us?”, which featured top scientific experts on timely aspects such as low-calorie sweeteners and weight and the relationship between low-calorie sweeteners and the microbiome. The session was videotaped and is now available on the ILSI North America website.

Low-Calorie Sweeteners are a Sweet Tool for People with Diabetes
Not only does the overwhelming majority of scientific research show that low-calorie sweeteners are effective for weight management, it has also shown that they can have important benefits for people with diabetes who are looking for sweet-tasting options that can also help them keep their carbohydrate intake in check. According to a recent review published in US Endocrinology, researchers at Baylor University School of Medicine confirmed that low-calorie sweeteners can be an effective tool for people with diabetes to help manage their calorie and carbohydrate intake. (Foreyt, et al., 2013) The authors found that low-calorie sweeteners can provide people with diabetes “considerable flexibility in their health goals and personal dietary preferences,” highlighting them as a practical and safe tool.

As estimates currently hover around 29.1 million people in the U.S. who currently have diabetes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 40 percent of Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime, diabetes management is becoming increasingly critical.   It will be essential to use all available tools to help people manage their calorie and carbohydrate intake going forward to address this growing health concern, including incorporating foods and beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners into a healthful diet along with regular physical activity.

Next time the headlines spell doom and gloom about low-calorie sweeteners, pause for a moment and look at the larger body of literature, and the picture will look much brighter – and more truthful.

For more information on low-calorie sweeteners, visit:
New Studies Support Use of Low-Calorie Sweeteners for Weight Management
Facts about Low-Calorie Sweeteners
Vast Preponderance of Science Shows Low-Calorie Sweeteners Don't Impact Glucose, Insulin Levels, Are Useful Option for People with Diabetes