Do artificial sweeteners contribute to obesity?

obesity and artificial sweeteners

A new, small-scale study found a correlation between artificial sweetener consumption and weight gain in rats.

There are a couple of key words to keep in mind here: small-scale, and correlation. What this study basically shows is that…we need more study! Still, it’s worth taking a look at the methods and outcomes here:

  • 29 rats ate yogurt sweetened with either sucrose (sugar) or artificial sweeteners for 12 weeks, along with unlimited “rat chow.”
  • Scientists measured the total calories that the rats ate along with weight gain. Rats ended up eating around the same amount of calories per day.
  • They constrained the rats to take physical activity out of the equation
  • The rats who ate artificial sweetener gained more weight.

Without further study, we can’t sure that this correlation means that artificial sweetener necessarily causes weight gain, but the results definitely call for more research! The scientists speculate that the rats’ weight gain was most likely from “a decrease in energy expenditure or increase in fluid retention.”

artificial sweeteners

The idea when you replace sugar with artificial sweeteners is that you’re eating fewer calories, which should mean less weight gain, as long as you’re not making up for those calories by eating more food overall. If these chemical sweeteners don’t help with weight loss or weight maintenance, what’s the point, right?

This isn’t the first study to look at the correlation between artificial sweeteners and weight. A 2009 study linked artificial sweeteners with a craving for sweets. So, people who consumed more artificially-sweetened foods and drinks craved more sweets, therefore eating more calories overall.

Of course, the possible link to weight gain isn’t the only health concern when it comes to sweeteners like aspartame. Despite FDA approvals for these products, there is a safety question when it comes to artificial sweeteners, and some of them were pushed through approvals in pretty shady ways. There may even be a link between sweeteners like aspartame and cancer.

What do you guys think about this study and about artificial sweeteners in general? I try to avoid them, though they sometimes show up in unexpected places! If you start looking closely at ingredients labels for invert sugar, aspartame, sucralose, and other other artificial sweeteners, you’ll find it in food like breakfast cereal, popcorn, granola bars, ice cream, and chewing gum. And that’s just off the top of my head. You’d be surprised where these chemicals sneak into packaged food!

All the more reason to cook at home, right?

Image Credit: Creative Commons photos by Spree2010; Steve Snodgrass

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