No-Calorie Sweeteners: Good, Bad, or Biased?

No-calorie sweeteners are like magnets for controversy. When the Journal of Physiology recently published a mouse study of brain responses to no-calorie sweeteners, the health press was ready with headlines that ranged from:

Your Brain Isn’t Fooled by Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial Sweeteners Actually Lead to Piling on the Pounds
Artificial Sweeteners Are Turning You into a Fatty Fat McFat

Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? If a story mentioned that all of this was about mouse brains, it was buried far from the sensational headlines.

But if you think that sensationalism is limited to the lay press, think again. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism has just published a review by Susan Swithers with a misleading headline that reads, “Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements.” The journal gives itself a fig leaf by labeling the review as opinion. The scientific substance of the article is that there’s no definitive evidence of either harm or benefit from no-calorie sweeteners — just plenty of links and possibilities. The emphasis here is on the bad (unproven) possibilities.

In a careful review by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, more emphasis is on the potential benefits of using no-calorie sweeteners judiciously to “facilitate reductions in added sugars intake.” And the authors acknowledge that “these potential benefits will not be fully realized if there is a compensatory increase in energy intake from other sources.”

Speculation masquerading scientific information is a disservice to all. It leads people to discount real, evidence-based nutrition guidance.

Click here to read the mouse study in the Journal of Physiology, here to read the Swithers opinion piece, and here to read the scientific statement by the American Heart and American Diabetes Associations.

Why Even Bother? Photograph © abbyladybug / flickr

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