If you've ever tried to lose weight, you may have tried replacing the sugar in your fizzy drink or cup of tea with a 'diet' version or artificial sweetener. But it may have been counter-intuitive, suggests a new review of the evidence.
Artificial sweeteners may be associated with long-term weight gain and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
Scientists conducted a systematic review of 37 studies that followed over 400,000 people for an average of ten years. The researchers, from the University of Manitoba's George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation and the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, discovered that artificial sweeteners did not help weight loss.
Even worse, some of the longer studies even showed a link between taking artificial sweeteners and weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes and even heart disease.
Dr Ryan Zarychanski, assistant professor at the university said: "Despite the fact the millions of individuals routinely consume artificial sweeteners, relatively few patients have been included in clinical trials of these products. We found data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management.
It has been suggested that artificial sweeteners may fail to activate the reward section of our brain, meaning we don't feel satisfied and end up consuming more calories - and finding them from other sources. Some experts also believe that artificial sweeteners are bad for our gut bacteria which could lead to obesity and even diabetes.
The Canadian team will now undertake a study to understand how artificial sweetener consumption by pregnant women could influence metabolism (and potentially weight gain) in unborn children.
So are you better off reaching for the full fat version of your favourite fizzy beverage instead? Probably not. At a push, most experts believe that the diet type is likely slightly better for you than a drink teeming with sugar if you're looking to keep your calories down. Either way, a glass of water (or a herbal tea) would be a worthier option if you're trying to be health conscious.
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