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Alternative Sweeteners in Drinks Can Reduce Weight, Diabetes Risk: Study

photo of packages of artificial sweeteners

March 15, 2022 -- Replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with low- or no-calorie sweetened beverages is associated with small decreases in weight and risks for diabetes, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

Alternative sweeteners in drinks traditionally full of sugar -- such as soda, energy drinks, tea, coffee, juice, and sports drinks -- could reduce risk factors, such as high body mass index, body fat percentage, and blood lipids.

“Universally, everyone is recommending a reduction of sugar. Now the next question is: What’s the best way to replace it?” John Sievenpiper, MD, the senior study author and a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Toronto, told CNN.

The ideal way to replace sugary beverages is to drink water as often as possible, he said, but alternative sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose can help.

“Some beverages will give you that intended benefit and in a way that’s similar to what you would expect from water,” he said.

Sievenpiper and colleagues looked at data from 17 clinical trials that compared sugar-sweetened beverages, low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages, and water. Among the 1,700 adults included, about 77% were women with overweight or obesity who were at risk for or had diabetes.

Overall, using sweeteners besides sugar in drinks was associated with lower body weight, body mass index, body fat percentage, and blood lipids.

Importantly, the research team noted the timeframe of the trials, as well as the funding sources. The studies spanned from 3 to 52 weeks, with 12 weeks as an average. Eight trials were funded by government or nonprofit health agencies, four were funded by industry sources, and five were funded by both agency and industry.

The study adds evidence “that in the moderate term, [low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages] are a viable alternative to water for those with overweight or obesity,” but more evidence is needed to know the long-term effects, Julie Grim, director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association, told CNN.

On average, Americans eat about 60 pounds of sugar each year, and almost half of that comes from drinks, according to the latest data from the American Heart Association. The numbers are typically even higher for children, adding up to more than 65 pounds of added sugar per year.

The association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons -- about 36 grams or 150 calories -- of added sugar per day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons -- about 25 grams or 100 calories -- of added sugar per day for women.

Researchers often debate the benefits of alternative sweeteners. Previous studies have found that diet soda may be as harmful for the heart as regular soda, CNN reported, while others have found that drinking two or more artificially sweetened drinks per day is still linked with health issues such as heart attacks and strokes.

But alternative sweeteners could help people slowly cut back on sugary beverages and move toward water.

“You know that you’ve got a choice, and I think that’s important for a lot of people that they have that,” Sievenpiper told CNN.

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

JAMA Network Open: “Association of Low- and No-Calorie Sweetened Beverages as a Replacement for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.”

CNN: “Alternative sweeteners in your drinks can help with weight and diabetes risk, study says.”

American Heart Association: “How much sugar is too much?”

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