Millions of Americans use low calorie sweeteners (LCS) in lieu of sugar. Their use has saved billions of calories each year, but they have also received a bad rap over the last few years. Largely because they are deemed just as bad at rising blood insulin levels as sugar and linked to increase appetite, as well as body fat in the same manner that sugar does, but in a slower more insidious way.
In a recent PRNewswire-USNewswire article that came out this week that claim was overturned. The article acknowledged that the role of LCS in weight management and appetite has been a topic of growing public interest in recent years. It cites a new analysis of research spanning 35 years finds that replacing sugar with low calorie sweeteners helps people lose weight, reduce waist size and decrease body fat. Moreover, the analysis also shows that low calorie sweeteners do not cause weight gain.
"As overweight and obesity-related health conditions include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, it's critical to identify strategies that help facilitate weight loss or weight maintenance," says Vanessa Perez, PhD, who presented the study abstract at the annual meeting of Experimental Biology, a multidisciplinary scientific meeting.1,2 "Based on the gold standard study design in medical research; the randomized controlled trial; the results show that using low calorie sweeteners resulted in statistically significant reductions in body weight, BMI, fat mass, and waist circumference."
Dr. Perez and her colleague, Paige E. Miller, PhD, MPH., conducted a meta-analysis of published studies dating back to 1976. Meta-analysis, a statistical technique that quantitatively combines the findings from multiple, independent studies, was used to assess the effectiveness of low-calorie sweeteners. The benefits of meta-analysis include a consolidated and quantitative review of large, often complex, and sometimes conflicting body of research.
"Conflicting research on low calorie sweeteners and body weight have led to some debate about the relationship between low calorie sweeteners and body weight," says Dr. Perez, a Managing Scientist at the Center for Epidemiology and Computational Biology, Exponent, Inc. "Using meta-analysis techniques, we evaluated 15 randomized controlled trials and nine prospective observational cohort studies to examine the relationship between low calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition."
"Data from the randomized controlled trials indicate that substituting low calorie sweeteners in place of sugar does not cause weight gain and may be a useful tool in helping people comply with weight loss and weight management plans," Dr. Perez explains. "The results also show that use of these sweeteners resulted in a modest, but statistically significant, reduction in all outcomes examined, including body weight, fat mass and waist circumference. Additionally, the results do not support recent hypotheses that low calorie sweeteners increase appetite and sweet cravings."
Dr. Perez and her colleague also evaluated results from prospective observational cohort studies, which showed inconsistent results. The authors note that these studies are limited and difficult to interpret because few observational studies adequately account for potential factors that could impact the outcome, such as a person's diet and other lifestyle practices.
Dr. Perez noted that while past reviews of low calorie sweeteners and weight control has been published, the current meta-analysis is the most comprehensive scientific evaluation to date of low calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition. The complete study has been accepted for publication later this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN). This research was funded by the North American Branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).3
Both the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) support the use of low calorie sweeteners as a useful tool in managing weight and diabetes.
"Leading nutrition and health experts recommend a balanced approach to weight loss and weight management, including healthy eating plans, portion control and increasing physical activity," says Lee Grotz, PhD, Director of Medical Affairs, McNeil Nutritionals, LLC. LCS can be an easy way to help reduce the daily intake of calories and carbohydrate from added sugars, without sacrificing taste. It's one of many small changes people can make in their daily routines that can add up to meaningful changes in their weight management efforts over time."
1 Experimental Biology is a multidisciplinary scientific meeting sponsored by six societies from professionals in the fields of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pathology, nutrition, and pharmacology. The 2014 meeting was held April 26-30 in San Diego, CA.
2 http://bit.ly/1suHVYc) Miller, PE, Perez, V., (2014) Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohorts. FASEB J., 28, 391.1.
3 All opinions, findings, and conclusions made herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ILSI North America or any other organization or agency.