New evidence further links artificial sweeteners to weight gain

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Artificial sweeteners may not be the right solution to managing your weight.

Yes, it's true, sugar isn't good for us - but scientists recently reviewed more than 11,700 studies and came to the conclusion that artificial sweeteners may not be any better.

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia, are used to make numerous most popular soft drinks and according to researchers, consumption of them is widespread and increasing.

Researchers from the University of Manitoba warned against the long-term health impact of the sweeteners which have no nutritional value.

Dr. Meghan Azad and a team of researchers of the University of Manitoba conducted a meta-review of 37 previously published studies that looked at the diet habits of more than 400,000 people.

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But to get your sweet fix you might opt for a "diet" option instead, packed with low-calorie or calorie-free artificial sweeteners.

In nine studies, participants who consumed the greatest amount of nonnutritive sweeteners had a 14-per-cent higher risk of Type 2 diabetes than those who consumed the least. Further research is needed to fully characterize the long-term risks and benefits of artificial sweeteners.

"People are generally consuming non-nutritive sweeteners believing they are a 'healthy choice, ' but this may not be true", Azad told CNN.

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INTERPRETATION Evidence from RCTs does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk.

Both types of studies have their pluses and limitations.

Read Azad's full findings published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The trials did not show a consistent effect of artificial sweeteners on weight loss.

In addition, many people start using artificial sweeteners because they are already overweight and may already have developed diabetes. "They're shifting calories to other foods", Azad explained.

The artificial sweeteners are chemically different than sugar.

You've been watching your sugar intake lately, so you select a diet soft drink from the office pop machine for a cool, refreshing pick-me-up. But they did not find concrete proof of causation.

Nonnutritive sweeteners may also alter the body's response to sweetness over time, changing the way it metabolizes actual sugar, says Susan Swithers, a professor in the department of psychological sciences at Purdue University in Indiana. Artificial sweeteners also might sharpen the person's sweet tooth, making them more likely to indulge in sugary foods. She said the studies may have neglected other things that influence weight, such as exercise or overall diet.

"I think that the main takeaway is really just that we need more understanding of what might be going on physiologically", she said.