Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD - Calorie Control Council Says Sugar Substitutes Help Control Calorie Intake
New research underwritten by The Calorie Control Council asserts that using artificial sweeteners helps decrease intake of calories without overeating or hunger. The recent study states that study participants consumed a “pre-meal” dose containing sucrose (table sugar), stevia or aspartame and successfully consumed fewer calories without greater hunger or over eating at other times. From the details revealed in the report, I still have questions. But, I think the study design has a lot to do with reported outcomes.
When artificially sweetened products are consumed and what they are consumed with makes a difference. This study looks at sweetened products consumed before a meal. The emphasis of the study’s findings is to underscore fewer calories consumed. But the majority of criticism I read focuses on what happens to those calories, something scientists call nutrient partitioning.
It is my thinking that the body responds to artificial sweeteners consumed with food differently than when these same artificially sweetened products are consumed alone. When the taste of sweet registers on the tongue, the body is already secreting digestive enzymes and hormones getting ready for calories. One of those hormones is insulin. The role of insulin is to help glucose move out of the bloodstream into the cells of our body to be used for energy or stored as fat.
THE EFFECT OF INSULIN AND ENERGY PARTITIONING
When low calorie and calorie free products are consumed, the calories never come. I postulate that a resulting drop in blood sugar after consuming artificial sweeteners can trigger a sense of hunger, and drive a person to eat more–especially if you were using that diet soda to avoid snacking or to skip a meal in the first place.
I observe many clients mitigate this outcome by limiting artificial sweetener consumption to mealtime. By consuming artificial sweeteners during a meal, I suspect blood sugar is readily stabilized, especially when the meal contains enough protein.
I find the Calorie Control Council’s position to be somewhat disingenuous here. My guess is that the researchers fully understand the implication of their products on hunger and satiety. The authors state that this research was designed to quiet some of the concern about the role of artificial sweeteners distorting the body’s regulation of hunger and satiety. There is a glaring omission. The study fails to address the probable difference between artificial sweetening agents consumed with out calories from use of artificial sweetening agents consumed during a meal.
ARE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS “OK”?
I am often asked if artificial sweeteners are “OK”. I have very mixed feelings. Overall I think artificial sweeteners are problematic as they drive a desire for sweet. Along with ever present caloric sweeteners, the taste of sweet seems to drive the desire for more and more sweet.
If someone is able to quiet that craving with an artificially sweetened product during a meal, there is probably less fall out and the practice may be helpful in the long run. Of course, which sweetener makes a difference, despite whether it offers calories or not.
For the “non-nutritive” sweeteners–those that don’t offer significant calories, I suggest using sweeteners that have less impact on the body. That means avoiding aspartame (nutrasweet), as i don’t trust the use of a product that contributes to amino acids that can cross the blood/brain barrier and impact the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. I sense less impact from Splenda (sucralose) and Truvia (a blend of rebiana derived from stevia and erythritol) , although they have not been as widely used, nor studied for as long of a period of time. Time will tell.
Consuming caloric sweeteners isn’t necessarily less complicated. See Susan Dopart’s discussion regarding sweeteners on the Huffington Post for more information.
Maybe it is time to get used to less sweet, or at least rely on whole foods most of the time.