Assugrin Sweetener

Do Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Help with Weight?

The subject of sweeteners stirs emotions almost constantly. The World Health organization has been on a tear lately, suggesting the the sweetener aspartame might be carcinogenic and that non-sugar sweeteners have “deadly long-term consequences.” Some experts will even suggest non-nutritive sweeteners can cause weight gain. So we welcome the appearance of a more balanced view, supported by data from a randomized controlled trial. Writing in Obesity, Joanne Harrold and colleagues report that:

“Weight loss was equivalent with non-nutritive sweetener beverages and water following a 12-week behavioral weight-management program.”

In short, calorie-free sweeteners in beverages were no better and no worse than water for someone trying to lose weight.

An Ongoing Study

This is an interim report from an ongoing two-year study. In all, 493 persons enrolled in this study, which randomized them to drinking either water or a variety beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners. Investigators asked subjects to consume at least two servings of their assigned beverages per day. The study required people in the group assigned to drink water to stop drinking any beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners. The BMI of study participants ranged from 27 to 35. Everyone participated in a behavioral weight loss program with weekly group meetings.

At the end of 12 weeks, participants in both groups had lost an average of a little less than 6 kilograms of weight. Glycemic control, lipids, and liver function tests all improved for both groups. The study will continue for two years.

The Question of Bias

We would be remiss not to note that the American Beverage Association funded this study through a grant to the University of Liverpool. No doubt, some people will use this as an excuse to dismiss or discount the findings. But this is a mistake.

Rather, the standard should be to think critically about the methods and the findings of any study. On the subject of sweeteners, too many people retreat to their corners and listen only to like-minded comrades.

Biased warnings of “deadly” issues with sweeteners are no more enlightening or less biased than excessive promises about their benefits for weight loss. Objective evidence should rule the day and thus far we have no evidence to suggest that non-nutritive sweeteners bring great harm to health or great help with losing weight.

They are nothing more or less than an alternative to sugar when a person wants a bit of sweetness.

Click here for the new study in Obesity.

Assugrin Sweetener, photograph by Rama, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 FR. Read more about Assugrin here.

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July 31, 2023

One Response to “Do Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Help with Weight?”

  1. July 31, 2023 at 7:43 am, Pat Harper, MS, RD, LDN said:

    There is a large number of people who propose that NNS are the cause of the rise in obesity since the advent of NNS in the general population 30+years ago. They have little proof to support this claim, but rather just make the association. However, one can site many changes in lifestyle and society that could account for the increase in obesity, so it is unlikely that NNS are the root cause of (or even contribute to) obesity. It would be interesting to see what the incidence of obesity would have been if NNS had NOT been developed. Perhaps we would be facing a much larger obesity problem if the extra calories that NNS saved had actually been consumed! We will never know, but the NNS may have played a bigger role in weight loss or helping to prevent weight gain than they are given credit for.