Why caution may be warranted when consuming artificial sweeteners – Health

Consumers may want to think twice about relying on artificial sweeteners, says a Manitoba researcher who found no evidence the sweeteners help with weight loss and some potential health harm beyond the waistline.

People are increasingly consuming artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose as well as the non-nutritive sweetener stevioside, derived from the stevia plant. The sweeteners are widespread in food and drinks including diet soda, yogurt, sauces and dressings and baked goods.

Health sciences Prof. Meghan Azad was one of them, reaching for the low-calorie choices until she started researching them in detail.

“Over 40 per cent of adults are reporting using artificial sweeteners on a regular basis,” said Azad. “We know a lot of people are consuming them in foods and not realizing it.”

In Monday’s issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Azad and her co-authors scrutinize 30 observational studies that followed more than 400,000 people in the general population for about a decade, as well as seven randomized trials of about 1,000 people with obesity who were followed for an average of six months.

While those who are obese were trying to use the artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners as part of weight-loss program, Azad found no consistent benefits in helping the needle go down on the scale  or slimming the waist.

No clear benefit, potential for harm

What’s more, studies on those consuming artificial sweeteners routinely suggest the intake may be associated with cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

“There’s no clear benefit and there’s potential for harm, so for me, it’s worth it to just choose water instead,” Azad said.

While researchers conducting the observational studies took into account factors such as the overall quality of participants’ diets and pre-existing health conditions, no cause-and-effect relations can be drawn.

At her lab, Azad is now…

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