The evidence is clear: the rate of obesity continues to rise. How can people be helped to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight? The news is that low-calorie sweeteners could be proposed as a potentially useful tool in weight management because they provide a sweet taste but without the calories and can be a palatable way to reduce the energy density of a diet. However, a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle still remain the necessary conditions.

Today obesity has taken on global dimensions, in fact more than half a billion adults around the world were classified as obese in 2008, almost double the number in 1980. This growing global trend is leading to a marked rise in diets and lifestyle-related health problems such as raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol and insulin resistance, and the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and an increase in certain types of cancer.

From a dietary perspective, substituting low-calorie sweeteners for sugar is one potentially useful way of helping people to manage their weight.

Weight loss occurs when the energy consumed from food and drinks is less than the energy burned. Replacing sugar with low-calorie sweeteners is one way of reducing the energy density of the diet while preserving the palatability of sweet food and beverages.

In a review of 16 randomised controlled trials, consuming the low-calorie sweetener aspartame in place of sugar resulted in a 10% reduction in total energy intake which means a rate of weight loss of about 0.2 kg per week for a 75 kg adult, and it is reasonable to assume that this degree of weight loss would also be observed in overweight and obese people.

Moreover, a recent theoretical conducted in the Netherlands showed that using low-calorie sweeteners instead of added sugar in carbonated soft drinks could lower the body mass index (BMI) in a population of healthy, young adults. But more evidence is needed to confirm if this is a true cause-effect relationship.

Low-calorie sweeteners do not suppress the appetite and are therefore not a ‘magic’ solution to obesity. They represent a tool for weight loss but only in the context of a balanced diet and physically active lifestyle. The available evidence suggests their future use, however it should be emphasised that many factors affect weight management. As such, any effort to achieve and maintain a healthy weight needs to form part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

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Published in Health and Wellness

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