No calorie sugar substitutes were introduced in 1953 in diet soda and they have only increased in popularity and consumption since that time. A study done in 2006 showed that 180 million adults consume foods and beverages made with no calorie sweeteners.
However, many experts – including those who conducted this study - assert that the use of artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain. There are several theories experts have to explain the relationship between the use of no calorie sweeteners and weight gain.
When people consume sugar-free snacks, they are more likely to over consume calories because they mistake sugar-free for calorie-free. It is important to remember that weight loss is a simple equation of calories in versus calories out – it doesn’t matter whether the calories come from sugar (carbohydrate), protein or fat. Foods that are made with no calorie sweetener still have calories from the other nutrients; a calorie is a calorie and too many calories lead to weight gain.
When food manufacturers remove the sugar from food, they usually increase the fat content to make up for loses in flavor and texture from the removal of sugar. Sugar-free foods have calories so you still need to monitor your intake and control your portion sizes or you may experience weight gain.
Another theory is that foods made with no calorie sweeteners are not as satisfying as foods made with sugar and fat. Many experts point to Europe to support this theory. In France and Italy, sugar-free foods don’t really exist. People eat full fat and full sugar foods in moderation and those countries have lower rates of obesity. Many experts feel this is because people are more satisfied by smaller amounts of full fat and full sugar foods so they eat less and therefore, consume fewer calories.
Many experts hypothesize that the sweetness that no calorie sweeteners give to foods can lead to sugar cravings. This is because sugar substitutes are still very sweet, in fact often sweeter than foods that contain real sugar. For many people, eating something sweet, whether it contains sugar or a no calorie sweetener, leads to sugar cravings that sugar-free cookies simply can’t satisfy. These cravings often lead to over consumption of sweets.
While I do see the merit in this study and the comparable theories, I think the effect of sugar sweeteners on weight control is very individual. There is no cure all for weight loss, just like there isn’t one single weight loss program that works for all people. It’s important to look at your weight loss history and food patterns. Once you understand your own strengths and weakness with regard to food you can begin to determine what kind of weight loss program is best for you. And that program may or may not include the use of no calorie sweeteners.