Swapping sugary drinks for those containing artificial sweeteners isn’t doing your body many favors, researchers from the University of Manitoba’s George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation have found.
A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that non-nutritive sweeteners like those used in diet soda – think aspartame and sucralose and stevioside – were linked with weight gain, a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and various other health problems.
“I think a lot of people consuming them kind of assume they’re harmless because they contain zero calories. But what the evidence is suggesting is maybe there’s more to the story than that,” said lead author Meghan Azad, an assistant professor of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba.
The research team conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 37 studies involving more than 400,000 participants. These included seven randomized control trials spanning an average of six months and larger observational studies completed over an average of 10 years. The randomized control trials suggested sugar substitutes don’t help with weight management, while the observational studies indicated that sweeteners are also associated with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
In nine of the studies, participants who consumed the most non-nutritive sweeteners had a 14 percent higher risk of getting Type 2 diabetes than those who consumed the least amount. Moreover, in five of the studies, those who consumed the most non-nutritive sweeteners had a 31 percent higher risk of having metabolic syndrome than those who consumed less.
“The message is there isn’t strong evidence for a benefit from these products – and there’s potential evidence for harm,” Dr. Azad said. “I’m going to say that you should drink water.”