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Use of Artificial Sweeteners Should be Carefully Weighed

Overall calorie count still king when it comes to weight loss, blood sugar control

Block HSDAYTON, Ohio (October 12, 2015) – Individuals who view artificial sweeteners as the long lost key to weight loss and blood sugar control should carefully consider its use in their everyday diet.

Artificial sweeteners – known to the market under many different names such as aspartame, saccharin and stevia – offer the ability to indulge in sweetened foods and drinks with the promise of no added calories. Such an offer can seem hard to pass up for those struggling to kick the sugar habit in order to shed pounds and manage diseases such as diabetes.

However, research in the past decade is revealing what some might have already suspected: It could be too good to be true. For instance, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there may be a close link between America’s obesity epidemic and its love of diet sodas. NIH says a rise in the percent of the population who are overweight coincides with an increase in the widespread use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners such as aspartame found in Diet Coke and sucralose used in Pepsi One.

“Artificial sweeteners seemed to provide an answer to a growing problem: people consuming empty calories from drinks made with real sugar. Unfortunately, we are now discovering that these artificial sweeteners may have a paradoxical effect on a person’s body,” says Dale Block, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician with Premier Family Care of Mason. “The thought is that the body may not know how to metabolize artificial sweeteners, and as a result, it begins to follow the same pattern that it would if it had real sugar.”

 According to the National Household Nutritional Survey, about 15 percent of the U.S. population regularly uses artificial sweeteners. The majority of these individuals choose artificial sweeteners over sugar in order to lose weight. Sugar provides a large amount of rapidly absorbable carbohydrates, leading to excessive energy intake, weight gain and metabolic syndrome, the NIH says. However, large scale prospective cohort studies completed by the likes of the American Cancer Society found that artificial sweeteners are closely linked with weight gain and that when used alone, artificial sweeteners do not help someone lose weight.

Dr. Block says there is one thing artificial sweeteners do provide those who consume it: a stronger sweet tooth. Most artificial sweeteners are up to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar, often times creating a greater craving for sweet foods in general. As a result, individuals don’t think twice about drinking large amounts of non-caloric drinks without thinking about the presence of other less healthy ingredients such as caffeine.

“People think because it is a non-caloric drink they can drink a case or two a week,” Dr. Block says. “It’s unfortunate, but not unusual. I have had patients come into my office who can’t understand why they can’t get their blood sugar under control while drinking large amounts of diet soda each week.”

Laura Vikmanis, a registered dietician with Premier Metabolic and Bariatric Associates, says the key to a healthier lifestyle, including weight loss and blood sugar control, is moderation. Ms. Vikmanis has spent two decades counseling individuals and has seen firsthand the real correlation between sugar consumption and weight gain. Her goal is to help individuals shift on the spectrum of health from poor eating habits to healthy ones.

While she does not promote the regular use of artificial sweeteners, she does see it as a vital tool in helping someone in their transition to a healthier lifestyle.

“It is a personal choice and it is all in how you use them,” Ms. Vikmanis says. “For someone who is trying to lose weight, artificial sweeteners can be a step-down from regular soda because it does help cut an immense amount of calories. The end goal is to get someone to go off artificial sweeteners and just drink water.”

Individuals also need to pay close attention since each person can respond differently to their use, she says. Artificial sweeteners may satisfy one person’s craving while for another, it may cause them to crave even more.

Ms. Vikmanis says artificial sweeteners, such as the plant-based stevia, are a good option for those with diabetes because it allows more variety for sweet foods without additional calories. Those with diabetes, however, need to be careful not to overlook the food’s entire caloric count.

“In the end, it comes down to total calorie count,” she says. “Foods or beverages that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners can be calorie free, but sometimes are not because they contain calories from fat or protein. For example, a latte made with 2 percent milk may be free of artificial sweeteners, but there are still calories from the protein and fat in the milk. Always look at the calories per serving.”

For more information on artificial sweeteners or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit  http://www.premierhealthnet.com.  

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