Benefits in weight management
01 October 2016
A wealth of human studies has repeatedly shown that by reducing the energy intake the consumption of low calorie sweeteners and/ or foods and drinks containing them can help in short- and long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, when used as part of a healthy lifestyle and/ or a calorie reduced diet.
In 2014, a consensus statement by Gibson et al summarising existing evidence on the benefits of low calorie sweeteners, as reviewed by a panel of five independent experts at the International Sweeteners Association Conference in April 2014, concluded that they can enhance weight loss under real-life conditions when used as part of a behavioural weight loss programme.
Read more about the consensus statement by Gibson et al
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What the science says…
A considerable number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard in nutrition research, have repeatedly shown that the consumption of low calorie sweeteners and/ or foods and drinks containing them do not cause weight gain. On the contrary, they suggest that low calorie sweeteners use reduce energy intake and can help in short- and long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, when used as part of a healthy lifestyle and/ or a calorie reduced diet. A recent review by Bellisle (2015) concluded that “recent intervention studies in children and adults confirm that low calorie sweeteners use tends to reduce rather than increase the intake of sugar-containing foods, and to facilitate rather than impair weight loss."
In 2016, a systematic review and meta-analyses concluded that in randomised control trials, both short-term (less than 24 hrs) and longer term (greater than 24 hours) intervention studies showed that low calorie sweeteners, when used in place of sugars, consistently reduced energy intake. There were no intervention studies that reported weight gain with low calorie sweeteners use (Rogers et al, 2016).
Read more about the systematic review by Rogers et al
Another systematic review and meta-analysis published by Miller and Perez in 2014 included existing studies looking at the impact of low calorie sweeteners on body weight and found that replacing sugar with low calorie sweeteners helped people to maintain a healthy weight.
Further, in the beginning of 2016, a well conducted clinical study with more than 300 participants assessed the effects of water versus low calorie sweetened beverages on weight loss and weight maintenance in a year-long programme. The group that drank diet beverages experienced superior weight loss and weight maintenance compared to those who drank only water over the same time period. Their results show that water is not superior to beverages sweetened with low calorie sweeteners and can be an effective tool for weight loss and maintenance within a weight management programme. (Peters et al 2014; Peters et al, 2016)
Smart choices can help in weight control
Being overweight is a common problem affecting nearly half the adult population in Europe. Excess weight can cause and contribute to health problems such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, so maintaining a healthy weight is important.
Lasting change to weight, body shape and health is best achieved over time, starting with small steps and changes to every day habits such as following a more balanced diet and becoming more active. A balanced diet should include a variety of products from all food groups, consumed in moderation and specific amounts depending on everyone’s nutritional needs. What is also important when it comes to weight management, is to make smart choices that swap higher calorie food and drink for lower calorie versions, and, on this occasion, low calorie sweeteners are a smart way to enjoy sweetness while eliminating or substantially reducing calories.
Low calorie sweeteners and energy balance: A simple tool can make a big difference
To be a healthy weight the number of calories eaten has to match the number of calories used. Keeping a track of food and drink intake is not always easy, but getting the energy balance right is essential.
It means making smart choices of low or lower calorie foods such as sugar free alternatives because controlling calorie intake, in combination with increased physical exercise, is the most successful method of weight control. Making small changes to your lifestyle, such as consuming foods and beverages sweetened by low calorie sweeteners is a successful method of reducing calorie intake without feeling deprived.
Why the theory that low calorie sweeteners lead to weight gain is not valid
The theory that low calorie sweeteners lead to weight gain has its routes partly to the findings of some observational studies, which have found that people who are overweight or obese consume low calorie sweetened foods and beverages more frequently. Although retrospective cohort studies showed inconsistent results, Rogers et al. (2016) concluded that these studies provide little evidence to show that low calorie sweeteners increase body weight. In fact, consumption of low calorie sweetened foods and beverages may be higher in people who are overweight and obese, just because they consume more of these products in their attempt to manage their body weight and this is known as reverse causation. (Drewnowski & Rehm, 2014; Gibson et al, 2016)
This has been recently confirmed by a recent publication by Drewnowski & Rehm (2016), which analysed data from a representative sample of 22,231 adults obtained from five cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999–2008 NHANES) and confirmed that low calorie sweeteners use is associated with the attempt to lose or maintain body weight over a 12month period, and was not unique to obese individuals but held at all levels of BMI. That suggests that low calorie sweeteners use was tied directly to dieting behaviours, regardless of whether the participants were overweight or obese. This new finding actually is another proof for reverse causality, linking low calorie sweeteners use with trying to lose or maintain body weight over a 12month period. (Drewnowski & Rehm, 2016)
Most importantly, evidence from clinical studies supports that low calorie sweeteners can help in short- and long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, and does not confirm findings from observational studies showing that sweetness without calories may be related to weight gain.
- Bellisle F. Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight Management. Curr Obes Rep 2015; 4(1): 106-110
- Drewnowski A., Rehm C., Consumption of Low-Calorie Sweetners among U.S. Adults Is Associated with Higher Healthy Eating Index (HEI 2005) Scores and More Physical Activity Journal: Nutrients, 2014, 6, 4389-4403; doi: 10.3390/nu6104389
- Drewnowski A., Rehm C., The use of low-calorie sweeteners is associated with self-reported prior intent to lose weight in a representative sample of US adults Nutrition & Diabetes (2016) 6, e202; doi:10.1038/nutd.2016.9
- Gibson S, Drewnowski J, Hill A, Raben B, Tuorila H and Windstrom E. Consensus statement on benefits of low calorie sweeteners. Nutrition Bulletin 2014; 39(4): 386-389
- Gibson et al. Low Calorie Beverage Consumption Is Associated with Energy and Nutrient Intakes and Diet Quality in British Adults. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 2;8(1). pii: E9. doi: 10.3390/nu8010009
- Miller, P.E., Perez, V. (2014) Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 100 [pgs. 765-777
- Peters JC, Wyatt HR, Foster GB, Pan Z, Wojanowski AC, Vander Veur SS, Herring SJ, Brill C, Hill JO. The effects of water and non-nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss during a 12-week weigh loss treatment program. Obestiy. 2014
- Peters JC, Beck J, Cardel M, Wyatt H, Foster G, Pan Z, Wojtanowski A, Vander Veur S, Herring S, Brill C, Hill J, The Effects of Water and Non-Nutritive Sweetened Beverages on Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance: A Randomized Clinical Trial, Obesity 2016
- Rogers PJ et al. Does low-energy sweetener consumption affect energy intake and body weight? A systematic review, including meta-analyses, of the evidence from human and animal studies. Int J Obes (London) 2016 Mar;40(3):381-94.