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Groups Say Sweeteners OK for Dieters

< Jul. 11, 2012 > -- You now have the official go-ahead to pick a diet soda over a regular one, or add an artificial sweetener to your coffee.

Photo of several glasses of soda with ice

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association released a joint statement this week endorsing the use of artificial sweeteners - also called non-nutritive sweeteners.

The two groups said that the six sweeteners - Splenda, Equal, Sweet'N Low, stevia, acesuflame-K, and NutraSweet - may help people maintain or even lose weight.

The catch is to use the sweeteners to cut overall calories - not as an excuse to overindulge on high-calorie foods, the statement says.

For instance, if you choose a diet cola over a regular cola at lunch to save 100 calories but later in the day add in a 100-calorie snack, you haven't "lost" any calories.

Some benefits

"There may be a benefit to people who use them smartly and who don't compensate later in the day and negate the benefit," says lead author Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Although non-nutritive sweeteners are most commonly used in carbonated beverages, they can also be found in thousands of food products. They have become increasingly popular among consumers. In 1965, only 3 percent of Americans used artificial sweeteners. By 2004, that number had risen to 15 percent.

But even as people use more non-nutritive sweeteners, they haven't cut back on the amount of added sugars they consume. These added sugars contribute to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

It's not clear what effect non-nutritive sweeteners may have on actual weight loss or gain or total calorie or carbohydrate intake, or if they have any effect on other risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Cutting back on sugar

But, says Dr. Gardner, "picking diet sodas over sodas or even picking foods with non-nutritive sweeteners can have a direct impact on sugar intake."

Overall, though, these sweeteners aren't the magic bullet for weight loss. You still need to eat fewer calories than you burn if you want to trim pounds. That means following a healthy, low-calorie diet and adding exercise to your daily routine.

"If people are counting on this as the way to control calories and sugar, this isn't it," Dr. Gardner says. "The bigger impact has to be from an overall healthy diet. You never find non-nutritive sweeteners in carrots, broccoli, or kidney beans - all the things we tell people to eat."

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Naturally Sweet Options

If you're trying to cut down on refined sugar without using artificial sweeteners, try fruits. They add flavor, as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fruit also contains calories, so keep that in mind if you are watching your weight. If you have diabetes, fruit and other naturally sweet foods can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar.

Here are some ideas for adding fruit to your meals:

  • Add banana slices or berries to unsweetened breakfast cereal.

  • For dessert, top fresh fruit with a spoonful of yogurt.

  • Use all-fruit spread on your toast.

Spices also can help bring out sweet flavor in foods without adding calories:

  • Mix ginger with a fruit glaze to top fresh fruit.

  • Enhance flavor in cookies and rice with nutmeg.

  • Add cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg to coffee before brewing.

Always talk with your health care provider consult your physician for more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Diabetes Association - Artificial Sweeteners

American Heart Association - Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

Diabetes Care - Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current Use and Health Perspectives