CAM PoliticsDiet-NutritionObesity

Benefits and potential risks of artificial sweeteners

Surprisingly, only about 15% of Americans use sugar substitutes.

What might be the public health issues associated with recommending a switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners?

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, reviewed the research on nonnutritive (artificial) sweeteners.

And, the results.

  • The use of sugar substitutes has increased along with body mass index (BMI)
    • A cause and effect has not been determined.
  • Adding sugar substitutes to food doesn’t increase appetite.
  • No evidence for long-term value in weight management.
  • No evidence that adding sugar substitutes to a diet increases what’s eaten or contributes to obesity.

The bottom line?
Researchers from Denmark have reported that artificial sweeteners contribute to weight loss by simply offsetting the calories provided by sugar. Aside from this, there’s nothing in the artificial sweetener that causes dieters to reduce their caloric intake.

In another study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University recommended “public health efforts to reduce intakes of liquid calories, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages, in the general population.”

In the absence of health risks, it seems that artificial sweeteners could replace sugar in our foods and drinks — possibly making it easier to satisfy our sweet tooth, while avoiding the 4 calories per gram that sugar contributes.

Over the course of 10 weeks it could result as much as 2.6 kg (~6 lb) weight loss, according to the Denmark study.

Of course, the potential public health risk associated recommending a switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners has never been studied. Although researchers from India — based on the results of their laboratory studies — suggest it’s something we shouldn’t ignore.

5/4/09 18:32 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.