The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a sixth artificial sweetener, called advantame (May 2014). Thirty-seven animal and human studies show it to be relatively safe. Advantame is chemically similar to aspartame (brand name Equal). The other approved artificial sweeteners are: neotame (brand name Newtame), saccharin (Sweet'N Low), acesulfame (Sweet One), and sucralose (Splenda).
Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain and Diabetes It is established that sugared drinks are associated with weight gain and increased risk for diabetes and heart attacks, so many people believe that diet drinks are a more healthful choice. However, many research papers show that artificially-sweetened drinks are also associated with increased risk for weight gain, diabetes and heart attacks. For example, one study of 66,188 women, followed for 14 years, showed a higher risk of diabetes in those who used diet drinks rather than sugar-sweetened drinks (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 7, 2013). Interestingly, the women who drank artificially-sweetened drinks took in more (average of 2.8 glasses/day) than those who took sugared drinks (1.6 glasses/day).
Several large prospective studies show that using artificial sweeteners is associated with significant weight gain. The San Antonio Heart Study showed that drinkers of artificially-sweetened beverages consistently weighed more than those who do not drink diet drinks (Obesity, 2008;16:1894–1900). An American Cancer Society study showed that artificial drink users gain far more weight than non users (Prev Med, 1986;15:195–202). These studies do not show that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, heart attacks or diabetes; people who are overweight are likely to be using these products in an effort to lose weight and decrease their risk for diabetes or heart attacks. However, other studies show that the artificial sweeteners may be harmful rather than helpful for people who are trying to lose weight.
How Diet Drinks Defeat Weight Loss Efforts Sophisticated PET scans show that drinking diet soda turns on the pleasure center in your brain that makes you feel hunger (Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, July 10, 2013). It tells your brain that you are getting calories and you are not. So diet drinks lie to you. They make you hungry and then do not give you the calories you expect. You respond by looking for other sources of calories and you take in more foods that contain sugar and refined carbohydrates. Other studies have shown that the taste of sweetness makes you hungry (Physiol Behav, 1993;53:459–466), and that artificially sweetened drinks drinks make people more hungry than those with sugar or just plain water (Lancet, 1986;1:1092–1093).
America’s obesity epidemic parallels the rise in diet drinks and artificially sweetened foods. More than 6,000 new products containing artificial sweeteners were introduced in the United States between 1999 and 2004 (Yale J Biol Med, Jun 2010; 83(2): 101–108). More than 3,600 manufactured foods contain one or more of the FDA approved artificial sweeteners.
My Recommendation Both sugared drinks and artificially-sweetened drinks increase risk for weight gain and diabetes. I believe that people who want to lose weight or control their current weight should restrict all drinks that taste sweet.
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