It turns out the bitter aftertaste of artificial sweeteners is not the only bitter thing you have to swallow when using these synthetic sugar substitutes. Researchers at the University of South Australia have concluded those who use artificial sweeteners are more likely to gain weight and it may contribute to an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes.
Those two outcomes are in direct contrast to the reason people use artificial sweeteners in the first place. The desire to lose weight, or not gain any more of it, and to keep blood sugar levels in check are the are the driving force behind the multi-billion dollar artificial sweetener industry.
Other studies have shown in a controlled environment these low-calories sweeteners can help people lose weight. However, the results fail to hold true when it comes to consumers making eating decisions on their own outside of the parameters of a clinical trial.
Researchers theorize it’s because people justify poor choices. They falsely believe their use of artificial sweeteners is enough to compensate for the overconsumption of calories such as when someone orders a double burger and large fries with a diet drink at a fast food restaurant.
Professor Peter Clifton had the results of his study published in the journal Current Atherosclerosis Reports. He detailed how a review of more than 5,000 study participants over a period of seven years revealed those who consumed large quantities of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than non-users.
"Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar,” Clifton said. “They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favorite foods. Artificial sweeteners also change the gut bacteria which may lead to weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes."
Additionally, Clifton found an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and dementia among older people who consume artificially sweetened beverages but he was not able to explain the connection.
"A better option than low-calorie sweeteners is to stick to a healthy diet, which includes plenty of whole grains, dairy, seafood, legumes, vegetables and fruits and plain water," Clifton says.