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Can Artificial Sweeteners Make You Gain Weight?

Sugar Substitutes Lead to Weight Gain... At Least in Rats


Updated February 20, 2008

Can Artificial Sweeteners Make You Gain Weight?
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Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Sweet'N Low have been popular for decades, as a way to enjoy sweet foods and beverages and not gain the weight associated with sugar. Paradoxically, obesity has been steadily climbing in our country from the early 1980s to today. During this period the prevalence of obesity among adults 20-74 years of age doubled from 15 to 31 percent.

A recent study from Purdue University tested the theory that eating sugar substitutes instead of the real thing may actually lead to weight gain, instead of weight loss. Although the scientists studied rats, the question was: Could artificial sweeteners be one of the reasons for the increase in obesity in humans?

The study used saccharin, the oldest of all the artificial sweeteners. It was invented in 1879. Researchers fed rats yogurt either sweetened with sugar or with saccharin.

The study showed that rats fed yogurt sweetened with sugar did not eat as much as the rats fed artificially sweetened yogurt. The premise is that eating real sugar sets off a response that lets the body know that real calories are being consumed. In turn, the rat feels satisfied after eating.

Meanwhile, rats that ate the artificially sweetened yogurt did not have that response of being satisfied with the amount of food being consumed. They ate more, which caused them to gain weight and body fat.

To quote the Purdue study,

"Our findings and theoretical framework are in closer agreement with the possibility that increased intake of no-calorie sugar substitutes could promote increased intake and body weight gain, which is consistent with recent data from prospective human clinical studies that have documented increased risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome in individuals consuming beverages sweetened with high-intensity sweeteners."

Many people with diabetes use foods with artificial sweeteners because the sweeteners do not count as carbohydrates. This can allow people a wider variety of foods to enjoy, while still staying within their carb allotment.

So, what are people with diabetes supposed to do? These days, sugar is not the enemy it once was in managing diabetes. Doctors used to feel that eating sugar would spike blood glucose levels too high and too fast.

The current view of sugar is that it is metabolized at the same rate as any carbohydrate, and can be part of your total carbohydrates for the day. Budgeting your total daily carbs and having a small portion of a favorite dessert made with real sugar is not a bad thing. Many foods that contain artificial sweeteners end up having more calories and fat than they had when made with sugar, anyway.

Artificial sweeteners may not be as beneficial for weight loss as previously thought. Incorporating appropriate serving sizes of real sugar into your diet may make weight loss easier and might ultimately be more satisfying.


Swithers, Susan E., & Davidson, Terry L. (2008). A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats. Behavioral Neuroscience, 122, Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/bne-feb08-swithers.pdf.

Sweeteners & Desserts. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from American Diabetes Association Web site: http://diabetes.org/nutrition-and-recipes/nutrition/sweeteners.jsp

(2006, Apr 24). Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from Center for Disease Control (CDC) Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/women/natstat/overwght.htm

Henkel, John (2006, Feb). Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from FDA Consumer Web site: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdsugar.html

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