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Artificial sweeteners won’t make you thin

A new study suggests that sugar substitutes could actually cause weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease.
Sugar substitutes may have zero calories, but that doesn't make them good for you. Photo: ISTOCK

Last week we learned that the powdered cheese mix in blue box mac and cheese contains high levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Science has come for Diet Coke now, too. Basically, just don’t eat or drink anything. Oh, except coffee — lots of it — which could make you live longer.

According to a new report published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), there is no substantial evidence that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside, actually help you lose weight. 

Moreover, the data suggest that consuming artificial sweeteners could lead to weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. 

It isn’t just one study: Researchers from the University of Manitoba’s George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation reviewed 37 studies. Seven were randomized controlled trials, involving 1,000 subjects over an average of six months, while the rest tracked more than 400,000 people over an average of ten years. 

“I think there’s an assumption that when there are zero calories, there is zero harm,” said lead author Dr. Meghan Azad. “This research has made me appreciate that there’s more to it than calories alone.”

Why would saccharine sugar lead to weight gain? According to NPR, there are a few theories, including that it could enhance your sweet tooth, leading to increased cravings. It could also alter the gut microbiome in a way that could interfere with metabolism.   

"Given the widespread and increasing use of artificial sweeteners, and the current epidemic of obesity and related diseases, more research is needed to determine the long-term risks and benefits of these products," said Azad.

I am drinking a regular Coca Cola as I write this. Of course, regular added sugar can also lead to weight gain and has been linked to heart disease. So, again, just stick with the coffee.