Just call me the mythbuster, since I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.
In a recent segment of The Dr. Oz show, low-calorie sweeteners were linked to weight gain and the average consumer use of the products was completely exaggerated. Fortunately, several experts are already bashing the piece, saying it presents inaccurate claims while ignoring the vast body of scientific research that supports the use of sugar substitutes in weight loss and maintenance efforts.
According to a prepared statement from the Calorie Control Council, numerous studies reveal that the consumption of low-cal sweeteners does NOT lead to an increase in hunger or weight gain.
"What I have seen in my 35 years of clinical practice is that low-calorie sweeteners do help people control their weight when they are used along with a balanced diet and regular exercise," said Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert. "But low-calorie sweeteners are only one tool - and unfortunately, not all consumers of diet drinks and low-calorie sweeteners are living a healthy lifestyle."
In addition to linking low-cal products to weight gain, the segment also misrepresented the use of sugar substitutes.
"Intervention studies have been conducted over the past few decades, and uniformly show that when artificial sweeteners are introduced into the diet (usually in a "blinded" fashion, so the subjects don't know it), fewer sugars and calories are ingested and body fat content and body weight are reduced," said Dr. John Fernstrom, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. More from Dr. Fernstrom can be found here.
I'm really perplexed over all of the confusion over whether low-cal sweeteners are a friend or foe to folks trying to control calories. A 2012 study in the International Journal of Obesity concluded the consumption of low-cal beverages increases dietary restraint, a key aspect of successful weight maintenance. And this Pediatrics study revealed that overweight children could prevent further weight gain simply by walking another 2,000 steps a day and reducing their calorie intake by 100. This was done by replacing sugary beverages with those sweetened with sucralose. Click here, here and here for more research.
A sugar-free diet can help shrink the waistline over time. According to this calorie savings calculator, switching from a regular 8-ounce cola to a sucralose-sweetened variation could save 100 calories each day - and result in a loss of up to 15 pounds throughout the year. And a blueberry muffin baked with sucralose can shave 80 calories from your daily intake. Not bad, ey? Either way, you will find that making small changes and turning to low-calorie foods and beverages sweetened with sucralose can have a huge impact on weight over the course of the year.
Look, the safety and benefits of low-cal sweeteners - and the products that contain them - have been reaffirmed time and again by the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association and others. So until research proves otherwise, I'm going to continue eating and drinking products sweetened with sugar substitutes. Take that, Dr. Oz!