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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Are artificial sweeteners helpful or harmful when it comes to weight loss?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Samantha Ling

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Samantha is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), consultant and food and nutrition enthusiast. Samantha works in a private practice on the Central Coast, NSW, Rostant … View Profile

    Artificial sweeteners can play an important role in weight loss as they are what we call ‘empty foods’ or ‘cheat foods’. These products have often had the sugar taken out and replaced the sweetness with an artificial sweetener. You'll find these products in the supermarket labelled as ‘diet’ or ‘low kilojoule’ (eg. diet cordial, low kilojoule jelly etc).

    In weight loss, artificial sweeteners can play a role in:
    1. Assisitng to curb bingeing behaviours - replace your chocolate in the fridge with diet jelly or low kilojoule lollies. Now you can practice being ‘mindful’ of your bingeing behaviours without feeling the guilt, getting you off the ‘binge cycle’ quicker and working you closer towards breaking those bingeing behaviours.

    2. Having that sweet treat without the guilt - swap your regular ice-cream to a ‘diet ice-cream’ such as Skinny Cow Ice-cream. Look out for other diet products and swap these with the ones you're currently using.

    3. Assists with keeping your Blood Glucose Levels within the normal range for diabetics - unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners don't directly raise your blood glucose levels. So if you enjoy more than 3 cups of tea or coffee a day with sugar AND you're a diabetic, artificial sweeteners can help keep your blood glucose levels down and cut some of the kilojoules out of you diet assisting with weight management. Alternatively, look at reducing your overall caffeine intake to less than 3 cups/day.

    By simply swapping your regular softdrink that you consume everyday (say it's around 600 kilojoules per drink) to a ‘diet version’ (that's 200 kilojoules or less) - you could lose yourself 5kg of fat over one year! And all you need to change is you softdrink! Imagine the success you could achieve if you combined exercise and a balanced diet into your lifestyle as well.

    It's important to note that artificial sweeteners are not for everybody. In some, artificial sweeteners can cause irritable bowel. As part of a healthy, balanced diet artificial sweeteners should not make up your primary intake. These foods are called ‘empty foods’ as they are not nutrient dense and should not make up a large portion of your diet. Talk to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) today and find out if artificial sweeteners would be suitable for you and your lifestyle!

    Samantha Ling
    Rostant Nutrition
    (Find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/RostantNutrition )

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    Julian Ong

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Julian is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) who is passionate about helping a wide variety of people achieve their nutritional goals whether it is just … View Profile

    I would agree with Sam that artificial sweetners are an effective short term solution to reduce your energy intake and possibly curb binging behaviour. After all, they contain virtually no kilojoules and thus help satisfy that desire for sweet foods withouth having to feel you have wrecked your diet plan. 

    I would however caution the long term use of using artificial sweetners as a means to reduce kilojoules and as a chonic solution to weight loss. When we consume something sweet, the primtive brain associates this with an intake of energy. With artificial sweetners, the association between taste and energy value has been uncoupled. Studies have shown that with the use of artificial sweetners, consumers may actually increase their energy intake to fill up the ‘energy void’ left by artificially sweetend food. This additiional energy intake is more often than not greater than that contained in the naturally sweetened food. In this case, it becomes counter productive to weight loss efforts.

    As Sam has suggested, artificial sweetners especially sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol can also cause bowel disturbances in consumers especially when consumed in higer amounts.

    Overall, meaningful fat loss still boils down to adopting healthy eating habits, watching portion sizes, living an active lifestyle and leaving treats as “treats” as they are rightfully called i.e. occasional. Speaking to an APD would definitely be valuable in tailoring advice and suggestions in assisting with your weight loss efforts. 

  • Peter has a Bachelor's degree in Science and two Masters degrees (Science and Nutrition/Dietetics). He is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and also a … View Profile

    Compared to sugars or adding sugar, I think the artificial sweeteners are better because they've got no calories. But what I found in practice is artificial sweeteners do condition the taste buds for other sweet things. So it may not be the artificial sweetener that causes the problem. It's the doughnut or the cake that you have as a result of your taste buds being encouraged to look for that type of food.

    What I say to people is the fewer sweeteners you add to your diet, the better. If you do need a sweetener, then an artificial sweetener is better than raw sugar but the less you have the better.

  • Lucy Johnston

    Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer

    Owner ,Operator of Pro Health Studio, Exercise Physiology Clinic, Byron Bay. We service clients with chronic diseases, chronic injuries and weight issues right through to … View Profile

    There is some evidence that if it still stimulates the response of being sweet to the brain then it is not helpful in the fight against obesity as people are still getting the cravings of sugar.

    Animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause body weight gain. A sweet taste induces an insulin response, which usually promotes blood sugar to be stored in tissues, but because blood sugar does not increase with artificial sweeteners, there is hypoglycemia and increased food intake. So in the experiment, after a while, rats given artificial sweetener have steadily increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity.
    Also artificial sweeteners are exactly that! Artificial. So they provide no nutritional benefit to the individual.
    We should be using food as a preventative medicine. If you actually ate the foods you need to look after your body, you wouldnt have any time or room left to eat nutrient low foods such as sweet drinks and candy anyway.

    Everything you eat should be of medicinal purpose to your body and there are certain compounds in artificial sweeteners that have shown to cause health problems down the track

    Also, remember that although there are some sweeteners that come from natural plant derivatives, it is important that we eat whole foods as often it is all the compounds in the food that make each derivative healthy and easy for the body to break down.

  • Sharon Brooks

    Nutritionist

    Sharon, a Registered Nutritionist RNutr and Food Scientist runs a nutrition consulting business that specialises in proactive nutrition and disease prevention.Sharon runs corporate, school and … View Profile

    Artificial sweeteners are approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose (common table sugar). Regular or over consumption of very intense sweetners programs our body and mind to desire this level of sweetness in all foods. Long term this impacts what taste sensations satisfy us, for example, the desire for foods with bitter components such as broccoli and brussel sprouts tend to be effected. These vegetables and the broader Cruciferous family (caulfilower, kale, bok choy) are beneficial for long term health and can aid weight loss.

    Even though artificial sweeteners are perfectly safe for consumption ( they are approved by the Australian Food Standards code), for weight loss they are not ideal. Even though they have low or no calories, they are not providing us with the nutrition we need. Selecting whole and real foods will aways provide a better outcome.

    Another consideration is artificial sweeteners draw fluid to the gastrointestinal area which may lead to bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.
    When artificial sweetners enter the mouth, taste receptors trigger the brain to alert the stomach of an impending arrival of sugar. Once the food arrives in the stomach the hormones and enzymes summoned to breakdown the sugar are not required as there are no calories to break down. The digestive hormones and enzymes linger and there is usually an increase in appetite. So, although artificial sweetners contain no calories they can actually stimulate hunger and the desire for sweet foods- the very thing consumers are trying to avoid.    

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    Kirsty Woods

    Exercise Physiologist

    Hi I’m Kirsty Woods,I would like to use my experience, expertise and passion to help you reach your weight, energy and health goalsI have been … View Profile

    You may find this article of interest:) http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/diet-soft-drinks-don8217t-help-with-weight-loss-and-could-be-making-you-fat-study-shows/story-fneuz9ev-1226677319499

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    Arlene is a registered practising dietitian, with a private practice in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, and has built a strong business over the last … View Profile

    If you're trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. You aren't alone.
    Today artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in a variety of food and beverages marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet,” including soft drinks, chewing gum, jellies, baked goods, candy, fruit juice, and ice cream and yogurt.
    Just what are all these sweeteners? And what's their role in your diet?
    Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). Artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. The topic of sugar substitutes can be confusing. One problem is that the terminology is often open to interpretation. For instance, some manufacturers call their sweeteners “natural” even though they're processed or refined, as is the case with stevia preparations. And some artificial sweeteners are derived from naturally occurring substances — sucralose comes from sugar, for example.
    Regardless of how they're classified, sugar substitutes aren't magic bullets for weight loss.
    Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar.
    Artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they add virtually no calories to your diet. In addition, you need only a fraction compared with the amount of sugar you would normally use for sweetness.
    Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, lollies, desserts, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.
    Artificial sweeteners are also popular for home use. Some can even be used in baking or cooking. Some artificial sweeteners may leave an aftertaste. You may need to experiment with artificial sweeteners to find one or a combination that you enjoy most.
    One benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they don't contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with the following:

    • Weight control. One of the most appealing aspects of artificial sweeteners is that they are non-nutritive — they have virtually no calories. In contrast, each gram of regular table sugar contains 4 calories. A teaspoon of sugar is about 5 grams. For perspective, consider that one 360 ml can of a sweetened cola contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 130 calories. If you're trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. On the other hand, some research has suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners may be associated with increased weight, but the cause is not yet known.
    • Artificial sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don't raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. But because of concerns about how sugar substitutes are labeled and categorized, always check with your doctor or dietitian about using any sugar substitutes if you have diabetes.Weight control. Sugar alcohols are considered nutritive sweeteners because they contribute calories to your diet. Still, sugar alcohols have fewer calories than does regular sugar — about 2 calories per gram on average. This means that sugar alcohols can be considered lower calorie sweeteners, and they may aid weight-control efforts.
    • Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols can raise blood sugar levels because they're carbohydrates. But because your body doesn't completely absorb sugar alcohols, their effect on blood sugar is less than that of other sugars. Different sugar alcohols can affect blood sugar differently. You can consume sugar alcohols if you have diabetes, but you still must pay attention to the total amount of carbohydrates in your meals and snacks. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for guidance. 
      There are few health concerns associated with sugar alcohols. When eaten in large amounts, usually more than 50 grams but sometimes as little as 10 grams, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, causing bloating, intestinal gas and diarrhea. Product labels may carry a warning about this potential laxative effect.
      Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes. But even these so-called natural sweeteners often undergo processing and refining, including agave nectar. Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
      Natural sweeteners have a variety of uses both at home and in processed foods. They are sometimes known as added sugars because they're added to foods during processing. They may be used to sweeten drinks such as tea and cocktails, in desserts, as pancake and waffle toppings, on cereals, and for baking, for example.
      Although natural sugar substitutes may seem healthier than processed table sugar, their vitamin and mineral content isn't significantly different from that of sugar. Honey and sugar, for instance, are nutritionally similar, and both end up in your body as glucose and fructose. Choose a natural sweetener based on how it tastes and its uses, rather than on its health claims.
      So-called natural sweeteners are generally safe. But there's no health advantage to consuming added sugar of any type. And consuming too much added sugar, even natural sweeteners, can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition, weight gain and increased triglycerides. Also, be aware that honey can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxin. Because of that, honey shouldn't be given to children less than 1 year old.
      When choosing sugar substitutes, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Get informed and look beyond the hype. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren't a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation.
      Just because a food is marketed as sugar-free doesn't mean it's free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. And remember that processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don't offer the same health benefits as do whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
       

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