Using artificial sweeteners can be a great way to cut back on sugar in your diet, but only if you don’t compensate by eating sugary junk food later.
This word of advice comes from a joint statement by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, which gives a cautious approval to artificial—or nonnutritive—sweeteners.
After reviewing the available scientific literature, the authors concluded that sugar substitutes can have a place in supporting healthy weight loss, as well as helping diabetics manage their blood sugar levels. This recommendation, however, comes with several warnings.
In general, cutting back on added sugar in your diet is a great way to improve your health. Several studies have found an association between sugar and chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Artificial sweeteners—like aspartame, sucralose—and plant-based stevia help people stay healthy by reducing their calorie intake, and avoiding some of the negative effects of sugar.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to wipe out those benefits. Eating fewer calories may increase your hunger, which causes you to eat more. You can also convince yourself that it’s fine to eat a candy bar, since you are washing it down with a diet soda.
The researchers found little scientific evidence, however, that shows whether artificial sweeteners can reduce the consumption of calories and added sugar over the long run. There’s also a concern that sugar substitutes condition people to like very sweet foods, which may affect their food choices in the future.
Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement on Heartwire, compared artificial sweeteners to a nicotine patch, “they are appreciably better than the real product (sugar), but not part of an optimal diet.”