Can Sugar Substitutes Help With Weight Loss

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CC BY-NC by tim ellis

There is a lot of discussion about effectiveness of sugar substitutes for quick weight loss. You also might have heard that artificial sweeteners are not safe or that diet soda is good for losing weight.[1] As a consumer, you will expect that sugar substitutes will help you save calories and as a result help you in losing weight too. But this is a bit more complex than this simple generalization.

Types of sugar substitutes

There are mainly three categories:

  • Naturally occurring sugar substitutes – these are sourced from plants and carry the approval of FDA as well. Some of the common names are Pure, Truvia, Via (extracted from stevia), Naturlose and Trehalose.
  • Artificial sweeteners – Most of these are made chemically and also have been approved by FDA. Some of the most common brands are Sweet One, NutraSweet, Sweet’N Low, Splenda etc. These sugar substitutes do not have any calories.
  • Sugar alcohols – These are made chemically from some compounds found in plants. These have less calories than sugar.

Do sugar substitutes help save on calories?

There is mixed scientific evidence about effect of sugar substitutes on weight loss. There is some research suggesting that they help with weight loss. [2] This probably because of the reason that these sugar alternatives have either zero calories or very less calories.

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But there are also many other research studies suggesting that they contribute to sugar cravings because the human mind does not register their sweetness as calories because these are free from calories. [3]

Since these do not have the satiating effect that normal sweetened foods have, therefore, human body tries to overcompensate for sweet foods whenever it finds.

Therefore, technically you save on calories by shifting to sugar substitutes but the complex human body’s mechanisms compensate these over the long term and mostly you end up eating more calories.

Another possible reason that sugar substitutes do not help you eat less is their extreme sweetness. The human body gets used to more sweetness and expects it more.

Sugar substitutes effect on long term weight loss

It may sound paradoxical but many studies have found a positive link between sugar substitutes and weight gain.[4] One study suggests that it is because the artificial sweeteners change gut microbe environment. [5] [6]

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Another recently conducted study found that the artificial sweeteners cause higher BMI, which is used to measure obesity. [7]

But the key is to use sugar substitutes in moderation and not as a license to overindulge in all kinds of sweet dishes. Many studies have found that the low calorie sweeteners help with weight loss. [8] [9]

Conclusion

Though use of sugar substitutes means you eat less calories but the long term weight loss is possible only by bringing about lifestyle changes too. The results from using just artificial sweeteners might not be as good as you expect.

When you replace your sugary drinks with those using sugar substitutes, always stay in moderation. Water should be your main drink. You also need to keep an eye on sugar free foods because these might be sugar free but still high in carbs and fats which is as harmful as added sugar. Your main snacks should come from fruits and vegetables.

 

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