Yet, a relatively higher risk of weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues was evident in relation with those sweeteners in long term observational studies.
The Food and Drug Administration has ruled that artificial sweeteners are safe, and sucralose, which was accidentally discovered by United Kingdom scientists while they were developing new insecticides, remains the biggest sugar substitute on the market, according to retail tracking service Infoscan Reviews and Information Resources, Inc.
But new research reveals that artificial sweeteners - such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside - actually cause long-term weight gain and increase your risk of a slew of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. And in general, more Americans are ingesting artificial sweeteners than ever- one study, for example, suggested that American children's consumption of artificial sweeteners went up by 200% from 1999 to 2012.
Dr. Meghan Azad and a team of researchers of the University of Manitoba conducted a meta-review of 37 previously published studies that looked at the diet habits of more than 400,000 people. "This research has made me appreciate that there's more to it than calories alone".
"Right now, sugar is so much in the spotlight as the bad guy causing obesity, causing diabetes", Azad said.
"People consume artificial sweeteners and diet beverages and think they can eat cake". Currently, data from clinical trials do not clearly support the intended benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight management, and observational studies suggest an association with increased body mass index and cardiometabolic risk.
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There's a growing body of literature on the potential risks of artificial sweeteners in zero calories drinks, to low-calorie sweets and even in pasta sauces and other processed fare. They also didn't find a link between the sweeteners and other outcomes. And more trials that reflect how people consume sweeteners in a host of foods are needed.
Another possibility is that our bodies have evolved to metabolize sugars in a way that's triggered not by calories or the sugar molecule but by the perception of sweet taste.
The other school holds that artificial sweeteners might influence the body itself in some as-yet-unknown way, Azad said. Sales of diet soda drinks have dropped by almost 20% since 2009, according to market research group Euromonitor.
There's no shortage of options for those who want to avoid sugar, including a whole range of artificial sweeteners.
Human trials concluded that there were no significant differences observed on insulin levels between groups consuming diet drinks and those consuming water.
"I think that the main takeaway is really just that we need more understanding of what might be going on physiologically", she said.