Artificial sweeteners are less likely to lead to weight gain than consumption of foods containing sucrose, according to research from the US published this week.
In the light of rising global rates of obesity, a team of scientists sought to establish whether the use of artificial sweeteners can aid in weight control. The researchers supplemented a group of overweight men and women with either sucrose or artificial sweetener, mostly in the form of sweetened beverages.
They found that individuals who consumed sucrose increased their energy intake, body weight, fat mass, and blood pressure. Individuals in the artificial sweetener group, however, experienced small but significant decreases in all of these areas.
The 41 participants in the 10-week study (35 women and 6 men) were all at least 10 per cent overweight according to weight-for-height tables and averaged 35 years old. They were divided into a sucrose group (21 subjects) who received supplemental drinks and foods sweetened with sugar, and a sweetener group (20) who received similar drinks and foods containing artificial sweeteners.
Most of the supplements were in the form of beverages such as soft drinks and flavoured fruit juices. The energy content of the sucrose supplements was three times higher than that of the sweetener supplements, and represented approximately 23 per cent of the expected daily energy intake for an average person.
Subjects in the sucrose group decreased their energy intake from their regular foods. However, over 10 weeks they gained an average of 1.3 kg of fat mass and 0.3 kg of fat-free mass, and their blood pressure rose significantly. Those in the artificial sweetener group decreased the consumption of sucrose and carbohydrate from their regular foods, lost an average of 1 kg (0.3 kg of that as fat mass), and had a small but significant decrease in blood pressure.
In the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors pointed out that the most likely reason for the difference between the two groups was a large amount of sucrose-sweetened beverages consumed. Energy from fluids is less satiating than that consumed from solid foods, giving rise to overconsumption. Furthermore, overweight subjects are less sensitive to dietary manipulations and cannot adjust their energy intake to match their energy needs as effectively as lean subjects.
The authors suggested that overweight individuals should consume beverages containing artificial sweeteners to prevent weight gain.