When sugar substitutes hit the mass market, people were excited to see if they were the ultimate answer to easy weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Years later, results still aren’t in. Studies performed under various circumstances have yielded mixed results on sugar substitutes, artificial sweeteners, and weight loss, and the search for a clear answer continues.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about sugar substitutes and how they affect weight loss. Switching from sugar, which contains food energy, to sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners, which contain low or no calories, is certain to have an influence on your bodyweight.
It does; your body produces less or more of certain hormones that cause chain reactions in the chemistry of its various systems. The science behind sweeteners and weight loss (or gain) is logical, but the results can be confusing.
How Sugar Substitutes Work
All sugar substitutes, whether they contain calories or not, trigger the brain’s perception of sweetness. The sweetness may closely match the taste of sugar, but even when it does not, we still receive the reward signals in our brain for consuming sugar substitutes.
Depending on the sweetener, the chemical structure of the substitute can cause varying reactions in the body. However, most sweeteners, even those with some caloric value, fail to trigger hormones in the body that signal fullness. Accordingly, your body may be unable to tell you when it’s time to stop consuming.
That’s because, likely, the lack of hormone production is a failsafe in your body that prevents you from consuming too much food without food energy. It’s a survival measure – if you consume only calorie-free food, your body will run out of energy, and you’ll be unable to power the systems that keep you alive.
How Can Sugar Substitutes Help Weight Loss?
When it comes to sugar substitutes and weight loss, replacing beverages and foods that contain sugar with those that contain sugar substitutes has the potential to lower calorie intake and, consequently, weight. But it is only potential – weight loss is not a guarantee.
Studies on sugar substitutes and weight loss have found that those who consume foods and beverages with artificial and naturally derived sweeteners tend, generally, to replace the calories they save with additional foods and drinks later. Therefore, most subjects studied consumed no more or fewer calories than those who consumed products with added or natural sugars.
However, subjects who did not know they were consuming artificial sweeteners actually consumed 25% fewer calories than those who did know. There is a relationship between dietary guilt and sweeteners that is almost entirely mental.
But there is also a relationship that is physical. Foods with artificial sweeteners tend to have added fat and carbohydrates to compensate for flavor alterations caused by a lack of sugar. In the long-term, people who consumed sugar-free beverages with sugar substitutes were twice as likely to become obese.
What Can We Conclude?
Like any diet and exercise plan, finding success in the inclusion of sugar substitutes in your weight loss plan requires discipline. Cutting calories with substitutes isn’t an excuse to make up for those calories with additional food and drinks; any diet substitution is meant to replace, not add to, your diet.
Sugar substitutes likely cause individuals to habitually feel less dietary guilt over the long term. A lack of guilt may explain why it’s so easy for long-term sweetener users to fall into obesity. The key is to consistently track calorie intake and match your exercise to it. It’s also important to monitor fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrate intake.
Sugar substitutes aren’t a magic weight loss solution, but they can help if used correctly, especially alongside a medical weight loss program that includes dietary and exercise guidance.