Are artificial sweeteners really so bad for you?

First they were hailed as a way to wean ourselves off sugar, but lately artificial sweeteners have been getting some bad press, being blamed for everything from obesity to cancer.

Sugar has long been identified as one of the biggest contributors to weight gain. Anybody who drinks a lot of fizzy drinks and has ever tried to lose weight can tell you that switching to sugar-free versions is an effective way to shed some kilos.

But in recent years, artificial sweeteners such as stevia, sucralose, aspartame, monkfruit, xylitol and phenylalanine have attracted criticism from many health practitioners, who claim a link between artificial sweeteners and heart diease, certain cancers and weight gain rather than loss.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) even issued a warning over their use.

“Non-sugar sweeteners should not be used as a means of achieving weight control or reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases” the WHO said in its statement.

But now, a prominent nutritional scientist, Professor Martijn Katan, is arguing that advice is flawed, and that we should embrace the wholesale use of artificial sweeteners.

Why WHO advice is wrong

Prof. Katijn says the WHO is basing its advice on studies of what happens to real people using artificial sweeteners in real life.

They looked at groups of people who chose, of their own volition, to use artificial sweeteners, and those who don’t.

Their results showed that the group choosing artificial sweeteners tended to be more overweight, while the ones who usually chose sugar were a healthier weight. Their conclusion based on this was that artificial sweeteners cause obesity and should therefore be avoided.

But Prof. Katijn says this conclusion puts the cart before the horse. He says obese people are more likely to use artificial sweeteners in everything, believing they can eat what they want.

Whereas people more likely to use real sugar, tended to only use it sparingly as they were more health conscious and aware of the dangers.

Dietician Ashley Jones, writing in the Herald Sun, agreed the WHO advice may not be applicable to everyone and that artificial sweeteners can play a role in weight management for problem eaters.

“The decision whether to use sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners needs to be an individual one, as it will depend on your own personal circumstances and health goals,” she says.

“If you are someone who eats a balanced, minimally processed diet with very little in the way of soft drinks, lollies or otherwise sweet ‘junk’ foods, there will be no benefit to adding non-nutritive sweeteners to your diet.

“However, if you are someone who is struggling to kick their soft drink habit, switching from a regular beverage to a sugar-free version could be a great way to start making healthier choices.”

Do you consume artificial sweeteners? Have they helped you lose weight? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Can lifestyle changes really reduce your chances of getting cancer?

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