Interview with Dr Jean-Michel Lecerf: How can low calorie sweeteners be useful in weight management?


ISA travelled to Lille on May 26-28 and in the context of the « Journees d’Etudes » of the AFDN Congress, met with Dr Jean-Michel Lecerf, who gave an interview about low calorie sweeteners.

Dr Lecerf, who is an Associated Professor and Head of the Nutrition Department at Institut Pasteur de Lille, France, was asked about the role and benefits of low calorie sweeteners in weight management but also about obesity and the factors affecting it, weight management tools etc.


Here is what he told us…

Q: Your scientific interest is around the role of nutrition in non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. What motivated you to start your research on this area?
DR LECERF: As an endocrinologist, the areas of metabolic diseases and nutrition triggered my interest from the very beginning, because both topics were important from a research and prevention perspective, but also from a medical treatment point of view.

Q: Obesity is one of the most important public health challenges and has been linked to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and CVDs. Which factors are more likely to be the cause of obesity: Genetics, poor diet, physical inactivity and the lack of exercise?
DR LECERF: Energy balance, which is the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure, plays an important role in weight gain. But we are all unique: genetics, epigenetics and microbiota are the cause of this inequality. In terms of public health, social inequality, stress, dietary imbalance, poverty and ignorance are also important factors.

Q: Do you believe that obesity complications like hypertension or insulin resistance can be reversible with weight loss?
DR LECERF: Indeed, hypertension, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia can be partly or completely reversible, depending on the severity or duration of the disease.

Q: Do you think that obese people can be metabolically healthy, or is weight loss indispensable for all overweight and obese people?
DR LECERF: All overweight people do not have the same profile in terms of causes and effects. There are obese people who are metabolically healthy but may encounter consequences of obesity. For a same body weight, body composition and fat distribution also need to be taken into consideration. Similarly, an overweight person who is active, has a healthy diet, and no other risk factors may not need lose weight, but only avoid gaining weight!

Q: Would you recommend the use of low calorie, low fat, low sugar foods and drinks in a weight loss diet? If so, how could they be helpful?
DR LECERF: Yes, of course, you have to learn to eat less, but without feeling frustrated. It’s part of a whole education. Someone can reduce the amount of food and/ or choose foods which contain fewer calories but they must not fall into the cognitive restriction, that is to say turning dietary control into a painful experience.

Q: What would your advice be to people considering using low calorie sweeteners, and foods/ drinks containing them to help manage their weight?
DR LECERF: These people need to couple this with a balanced diet as using low calorie sweeteners or consuming food containing them would not be beneficial if the dietary choices and the level of physical activity are not satisfactory. However using low calorie sweeteners can already be useful in helping people comply better with their diet.

Q: Some observational studies have suggested a link between low calorie sweeteners and obesity, while clinical studies in humans support that low calorie sweeteners can help in weight loss. How would you explain these conflicting results?
DR LECERF: The link between low calorie sweetener consumption and obesity exists, however the relationship between these is not that using low calorie sweeteners leads to obesity, but rather the other way round, ie. being obese encourages to consume low calorie sweeteners (to reduce energy intake). An observational study has shown that people who gained weight or just lost some tend to consume low calorie sweeteners more frequently.

Q: Would you recommend the use of low calorie sweeteners to other groups of people, like for example to people with diabetes or cardiovascular diseases?
DR LECERF: Low calorie sweeteners are not a necessary requirement in order to lose weight but they are useful. All intervention studies show that they help in weight loss, including abdominal fat loss, which is a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

– End of interview –

Read more about ISA symposium at AFDN Congress by clicking here, and read ISA press release about this event by clicking here.