3 ways artificial sweeteners work against weight loss

Sweets. We all love them.

In fact, we’re born with a natural preference for sweet tastes. And unfortunately, food manufacturers know it, too!

As you walk down the supermarket aisles today, you see shelf after shelf of products brimming with added sugars — all designed to satisfy our sweet tooth. Even if you decide to pass by the sugar-laden sweets, you’ll still be more than tempted by the huge range of diet sodas, diet foods and sugar-free options available.

But if you think you’re doing your weight a favor by switching to all those sugar-free options, think again…

Although artificial sweeteners — aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose — are promoted as the wonderful no-calorie option that offers a solution to your weight problems, research shows it’s quite the opposite…

Consuming artificial sweeteners prevents weight loss and even worse, drives weight gain and other metabolic problems!

Artificial sweeteners cause metabolic problems

The theory that artificial sweeteners increased weight gain was first tested in feedlot animals — piglets and calves. The results showed their consumption led to more weight gain per gram of feed consumed.

Next it was tested on rats and led to the same outcome – excessive weight gain.

So if weight gain occurs in other mammals, what about us?

The bad news… the same holds true.

People that consume artificial sweeteners have a greater BMI and greater abdominal fat deposits. They also show greater levels of metabolic syndrome – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and high blood glucose.

The effects of artificial sweeteners are so influential on metabolism that it’s even been shown that women consuming them during pregnancy double the risk of their infants being overweight at one year old!

Why do artificial sweeteners cause weight gain?

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why a product designed to keep you slim has the opposite effect, but a few possible reasons include:

Negative calorie illusion. Have you ever used the rationale that because you’re eating a sugar-free cookie, you can eat more of them than the ones made with real sugar? This is what I mean by negative calorie illusion. You think you’re cutting calories but in fact you’re probably still consuming too many, if not more, because you think it’s safe to, and as well, these fake-sugar or sugar-free foods have been shown to promote increased food intake.

Influence on gut bacteria. Evidence shows that artificial sweeteners alter the gut bacteria, increasing the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria, which can increase overeating and impair blood glucose regulation.

Interference with the gut-brain connection. Yes, your gut is connected to our brain. When you consume foods, certain hormones and enzymes are produced that communicate key messages such as “I’m full” and “I’m satisfied” and/or prepare your body to assimilate the incoming nutrients. When artificial sweeteners disrupt this natural circuitry it produces a range of negative metabolic impacts. Probiotics can improve your gut brain connection and improve weight loss.

So it seems we’ve all been conned again. Food manufacturers have used clever marketing tactics to sell us sugar-free products that are supposedly better for our health. But the truth is, they do quite the opposite to what we all expect!

Does that mean you have to give up satisfying your sweet tooth? Not at all. In fact, the right kinds of sweets can actually help you be more successful at maintaining a healthy weight…

All you have to do is include the right ingredients known as “the three pleasures”: nuts, fruit and dark chocolate.

These three versatile and health-boosting superfoods can be combined for a tasty treat capable of lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease and reducing your blood pressure and insulin resistance. And there is nothing artificial about them.

So the next time you have a craving, try frosted grapes drizzled in dark chocolate or grapes and walnuts in creamy lemon sauce… maybe even a handful of trail mix. Just remember… not too much.

  1. Shearer J & Swithers SE. Artificial sweeteners and metabolic dysregulation: Lessons learned from agriculture and the laboratory. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. 2016;17(2):179–186.
  2. Azad MB, et al. Association between artificially sweetened beverage consumption during pregnancy and infant body mass index. JAMA Pediatr 2016;170(7):662–70.
  3. Swithers S. Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2013;924(9).
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.