In a carefully worded statement, this week the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association gave cautious support to the use of non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) as a way to reduce sugar intake in an attempt to facilitate weight control. NNS, or artificial sweeteners, provide a very high taste sensation of sweetness while adding minimal or no calories to the diet. They are widely used in sodas, desserts and other food advertised as “diet” or “low calorie”. There are currently 6 NNS approved by the FDA as safe; acesulfame-K (Sweet One), aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), Neotame (Neotame), Saccharin (Sweet’N Low), Sucralose (Splenda) and Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, Sweet Leaf).
The statement emphasized that there is really no direct scientific evidence proving NNS are effective in a weight loss program, and that they could only work if a patient’s overall caloric intake was reduced. However, given that the reduction of sugar intake is one of the foundation blocks in weight management, if the result of NNS use is less sugar consumption that is a good outcome.
The authors cautioned regarding the risk of compensation-the intake of more calories either because the body senses the decrease of caloric intake upon switching from sugar to NNS, or because the patient now feels it’s okay to eat more since they are consuming “diet” products. There is also concern that NNS may prime your “sweetness center” and leave you desiring more in the way of sweets. However, according to lead author Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., “While they are not magic bullets, smart use of NNS could help you reduce added sugars in your diet, thereby lowering the number of calories you eat. Reducing calories could help you attain and maintain a healthy body weight, and thereby lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.”
Yes, indeed there are no magic bullets. Weight management is successfully managed through an ongoing commitment to a lifestyle which balances diet and exercise. In this context, NNS may be used to replace sources of added sugars and this substitution may result in modest energy intake and weight loss.
The full statement of release may be found at the website of the American Heart Association. For information on how to incorporate low-calorie foods and NNS into a healthy lifestyle, visit www.caloriecontrol.org. Discuss your health concerns regarding weight and diet with your primary care provider, know your “killer B’s” of Blood pressure, Blood sugar, Blood cholesterol and Body mass index (BMI)