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If you think that consuming drinks and foods sweetened with low-calorie sugar substitutes like aspartame, saccharin, or stevia will help you lose weight, you might want to think again.
According to an analysis published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), these compounds may actually contribute more to weight gain than weight loss.
In one of the most comprehensive reviews to date, of research that has been notoriously muddy, scientists from the University of Manitoba’s George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation examined 37 previously published studies that involved a total of 406,910 subjects. Their analysis exposed several gaps in our understanding of how low-calorie sweeteners work and what their effects are in both the short and long term.
The findings come at a time when curbing sugar consumption is increasingly viewed as the quickest path to a trimmer waistline and better overall health. They serve as a reminder that when it comes to diet and nutrition, there are few easy answers and no real shortcuts.
A Puzzling Paradox
The authors evaluated both clinical trials (which allow scientists to test cause-and-effect relationships) and observational studies (which help them examine health impacts in real-life settings). They also looked at a wide range of outcomes: not just weight, but also stroke, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
A Growing National Habit
With sugar now replacing fat as the chief villain in our daily diets, consumers are flocking to low-calorie replacements in droves. The current options include artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda), sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol, and plant-based chemicals such as stevia (Pure Via, Truvia).
According to a 2017 study in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, use of these sugar substitutes increased by…