Ask Dr. Nandi: Artificial sweeteners may do more harm than good

(WXYZ) - You may think artificial sweeteners in drinks, candy and processed foods are better because they have zero calories but new research links them to long-term weight gain. 37 studies have been analyzed and included more than 400,000 people. The longer observational studies found increases in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index. And those who had one or more artificially-sweetened drinks a day had higher risks for obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

There is no direct evidence that shows artificial sweeteners are 100 percent responsible for these health concerns but there are several theories as to why could be happening. 

Artificial sweeteners may trigger cravings, or people may think they saved calories and can now indulge in other high-calorie foods. Or it could be that sweeteners mess up your gut bacteria and affect nutrient absorption. 

There’s also the theory that sweeteners may affect how your body metabolizes sugar.

A lot of people consume sugar substitutes. A recent study found a quarter of U.S. children and 41 percent of adults consume artificial sweeteners regularly. So here are my prescriptions:

Partha’s RX:

  1. Moderation is important when it comes to sugar substitutes.  Use them occasionally, not every day.
  2. If the product says it’s sugar free, that doesn’t mean it has no calories.  You can still gain weight by eating “sugar-free” foods.
  3. Check food labels to know exactly what you’re consuming.  You can find sugar substitutes in foods like yogurt and granola bars.
  4. To sweeten drinks and foods, use natural sweeteners like fruit, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.

There are many kinds of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, stevioside, and sucralose. This particular study lumped them all together so it’s hard to know if one is worse than another. But they range between 30 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. My advice is to reduce your sweet tooth and get used to eating foods plain or use the natural sweeteners I mentioned in moderation.

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