HealthDay News — Artificial sweeteners may help people reach and maintain a healthy body weight, as long as those who use them do not compensate for the calories cut by consuming more high calorie foods, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association announced in a joint scientific statement.

“Smart use of non-nutritive sweeteners could help you reduce added sugars in your diet, therefore lowering the number of calories you eat,” study researcher Christopher Gardner, PhD, of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., said in a statement.

Because high dietary sugar intake has been linked with heart disease and diabetes, reducing sugar intake through the use of artificial sweeteners could cut individual’s risk for these diseases, he added.

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To exam the role of artificial sweeteners in added sugar intake, Gardner and colleagues performed a literature review and analysis of studies that looked at the non-nutritive sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, saccharin, sucralose and stevia.

The researchers noted that few studies focused on the specific role of nonnutritive sweeteners as a replacement for added sugars in the diet, and that the majority pertain to its effects on outcomes such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

But the overall findings are inconclusive, with some studies showing that nonnutritive sweetener use resulted in unwanted outcomes, such as obesity. This is likely due to reverse causation, in which those who use the sweeteners do so because they are already overweight, the researchers suggested.

Existing data also suggest that partial compensation occurs among  those who consume artificial sweeteners, for example opting to drink more diet soda or indulge in dessert later.  Further research into the mechanisms of potential NNS effects would facilitate and complement research in the area of energy compensation.

In general, NNS do not seem to affect glycemic response in individuals with diabetes, but clinical trials are needed to determine the long-term effect on body weight regulation and glycemic control.

The evidence reviewed suggests that, when used judiciously, NNS could facilitate reductions in added sugars intake, thereby resulting in decreased total energy and weight loss/weight control, and promoting beneficial effects on related metabolic parameters,” the researchers concluded. “However, these potential benefits will not be fully realized if there is a compensatory increase in energy intake from other sources.”

Furthermore, they emphasized the importance of considering nonnutritive sweetener-use in the context of an individual’s overall diet.

Gardner G et al. Circulation 2012; doi: 10.1161/​CIR.0b013e31825c42ee.