By Prof. Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG)
Huntington University of Health Sciences
The public and health care professionals alike have always had a love/hate relationship with low-calorie sweeteners—especially artificial sweeteners. Many like that fact that these sweeteners have no calories but dislike the fact that they are synthetic. I do understand the sentiment. This is my 40th year working in health care industry, and when I first started out I took the philosophical position that if it’s natural its good for you, and if its synthetic it’s bad for you. However, after extensive undergraduate and graduate education in nutrition and herbal medicine, my position changed to more of an integrative approach. Now, I always try to take an unbiased view of new studies and let the science speak for itself, rather than make a value judgement on the basis of being natural and synthetic. After all, not everything natural is good for you. Poison ivy is natural, but I don’t recommend making a salad out of it. And wearing glasses for vision is synthetic, but I wear them anyway because I’m fond of being able to see. Now, onto the discussion about the sweeteners study.
The 12-week study1 was just recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and consisted of 154 participants who 18-60 years old, and who were overweight or obese. The participants were divided into five groups, each consisting of 28-30 people, with each group given one of the five sweeteners, consumed in Kool-Aid. The researchers took care to adjust the amount of sweetener give to match the sweetness intensity. The results were fascinating. As expected, those in the sucrose group gained weight (about 4 lbs). Surprisingly, though, those in the saccharin group also gained weight (about 2½ lbs). Aspartame and the stevia sweeteners also resulted in very small weight gain, but it was so small that it was not considered to be statistically significant. In other words, aspartame and stevia essential had a neutral effect. Perhaps most interesting is that those in the sucralose group actually lost weight (about 3 lbs). Another interesting result is that the sucralose group also ended up consuming less calories. Glucose control wasn’t significantly affected by any of the sweeteners.
Sucralose and glucagon-like peptide-1
In case you’re wondering, there’s not a definitive answer as to why sucralose use would result in weight loss. However, other research2 has shown that sucralose is capable of stimulating the release of Glucagon-like peptide-1, a peptide produced in the gut, one of whose functions it is to help regulate appetite. So that may be the reason. In any case, sucralose (aka, Splenda) appears to be the sweeter of choice for individuals who are trying lose weight.
Over the years, I’ve ready many studies on natural and synthetic sweeteners. While I think it is a good idea to try and limit the intake of any sweetener, advice that we give our patients (and many of whom ignore), I recognize that they are still going to use sweeteners with some regularity. If those patients happen to be overweight and obese, sucralose may be a reasonable option to use. My opinion of the research I’ve read indicates that sucralose is a generally a safe sweetener. On a personal note, I’d certainly rather use it than to add sucrose to any of my foods.
- Higgins KA, Mattes RD. A randomized controlled trial contrasting the effects of 4 low-calorie sweeteners and sucrose on body weight in adults with overweight or obesity.
- Temizkan S, Deyneli O, Yasar M, Arpa M, Gunes M, Yazici D, Sirikci O, Haklar G, Imeryuz N, Yavuz DG. Sucralose enhances GLP-1 release and lowers blood glucose in the presence of carbohydrate in healthy subjects but not in patients with type 2 diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;69(2):162-6.
Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.