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More Reasons to Avoid Artificially Sweetened Drinks

Several months back, I wrote about a French study that found a strong link between artificially sweetened beverages and Type 2 diabetes (our article # 354). Now, a Medscape.com summary and analysis by D. Eric Walters, PhD, of the latest experimental data provides more cause for concern. Good reasons exist to avoid sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened drinks. Both can make you fat and may also make you sick.

Type 2 diabetes may be the tip of the iceberg. An examination of 24 observational studies revealed that the risks for metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease all increase with the consumption of artificially-sweetened beverages. Conspicuously, the risk ratios increase to a similar degree with the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.  Observational studies do not prove causation, but theconnections are at minimum worrisome.

Two intervention studies were also examined, with mixed results. The first compared the effect of replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with either artificially-sweetened beverages or water. Overweight and obese subjects were switched from sugar-sweetened beverages to artificially-sweetened beverages or water. Over six months, both groups lost a small but statistically significant amount of weight. The water group, however, showed a small but statistically significant decrease in blood sugar, while blood sugar was unchanged for the artificially-sweetened beverage group.

In short, artificially-sweetened beverages matched water for weight loss, but fared less well for control of blood sugar. This, of course, reinforces the connection between artificially-sweetened beverages and Type 2 diabetes.

In the second study, normal weight children, aged 4 to 11, were given either sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened beverages once a day for 18 months. The group receiving the artificially-sweetened beverages had reduced weight and fat gain, compared to the sugar group. Again, artificially-sweetened beverages aided weight control.

Some studies supported the notion that the body responds to sweet taste, even when artificially produced. Most studies, however, show that artificial sweeteners have little or no effect on insulin and blood sugar levels. Importantly, functional MRI studies show that the human brain can distinguish between sugar and artificially-sweeteners. “This result would seem to undermine the hypothesis that artificial sweeteners confuse the body’s link between sweetness and calories and lead to metabolic derangement,” Dr. Walters wrote.

So, where does that leave us? Confused? Yes, but some conclusions are warranted.

Artificially-sweetened beverages do appear to have value in weight control. But important factors should be kept in mind.

One complication is the “permission” effect. When people consume artificially-sweetened beverage they may give themselves permission to eat more of other foods. “The calories saved by forgoing a 12-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soft drink (about 150) are almost insignificant when traded for a large order of French fries (about 500).” Walters wrote. “And that’s before you add ketchup, at 15 calories per tablespoon.”

A related setoff is that calories consumed in liquid form—artificially- or sugar-sweetened—are less filling and satisfying than solid food. “Studies show that you will likely eat as much [solid] food when you have a soda as when you don’t,” Volumetrics author Barbara Rolls has reported.

And don’t forget the problematic connections between both artificially- and sugar-sweetened beverages and health problems.

Water would appear to be the safer choice for both weight control and health.

Dr. Walters’ nuanced bottom line is as follows:

"People who are consuming sugar-sweetened beverages would be well advises to do so in moderation,” Walters wrote in Medscape, September 16, 2013. “And those who decide to use artificially-sweetened beverages as a way to save calories should pay very close attention to their total calorie intake.”

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Carol and I have long preferred water over soft drinks. That hasn’t changed. 

What’s new is that I’ve decided to stop using artificial sweeteners. See my earlier article for the painless way I went about it: http://www.cbass.com/DietSoda.htm

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