Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? Recently, the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board met to discuss the latest scientific literature on calorie-free sweeteners. What’s safe? What’s best?
In addition to the physicians and faculty at the Pritikin Longevity Center, members of the board include James Barnard, PhD, UCLA School of Physiological Science; Robert Vogel, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine; William McCarthy, PhD, UCLA School of Public Health; Tom Rifai, MD, Medical Director of Metabolic Nutrition & Weight Management at St Joseph Mercy in Michigan; and Stephen Inkeles, MD, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Below are the Pritikin Scientific Advisory Board’s conclusions.
Pritikin Program Recommendations For Calorie-Free Sweeteners
The scientific evidence on calorie-free sweeteners indicates the following:
- Calorie-free sweeteners appear to aid weight loss when they displace concentrated sweeteners that are in beverages (for example, a diet Coke instead of a regular Coke) and in low- to moderate-calorie-dense foods (for example, Splenda rather than honey in oatmeal, or Splenda instead of sugar in nonfat yogurt). But the evidence is not conclusive. Other studies have suggested that calorie-free sweeteners have little or no long-term impact on body weight. Keep in mind that as the use of calorie-free sweeteners has increased over the last few decades, the average American has gained, not lost, weight. While there is no reason to think this association is causal, it clearly indicates that simply using more calorie-free sweeteners without other dietary changes is not the solution to long-term weight control.
- Calorie-free sweeteners may be beneficial for blood sugar control and therefore of particular benefit to diabetics when used in place of refined sugars, including fruit juice concentrates.
- To date, there is no convincing evidence that aspartame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), or cyclamates cause disease or pose a direct threat to human health. We have less data on stevia and purified stevia products such as Truvia and Purevia. Until more studies are published that definitively prove that stevia is safe, we do not recommend its use.
Pritikin Program Recommendations:
It is always best to satisfy your sweet tooth with whole foods that are naturally sweet, like fruit. You’re getting not only the pleasure of sweet, exotic flavors but also the many benefits of fruits’ vast array of nutrients, fibers, phytonutrients, and other health-promoting substances.
If you choose to use calorie-free sweeteners, choose sucralose because it has the best safety record. Your best choice among the sucralose products is Splenda With Fiber (corn fiber) because it is the one calorie-free sweetener currently on the market that has some nutritional value – one gram of soluble fiber per packet. Other calorie-free sweeteners have no nutritional benefits, and most contain small amounts of refined carbohydrates. To keep you moving in the direction of a palate that appreciates and prefers the subtler sweetness of fruit, keep your consumption of Splenda With Fiber moderate – no more than 10 to 12 packets a day.
Splenda With Fiber might improve your adherence to the Pritikin Program if using it helps you make better food choices and cuts your intake of foods with added refined and/or concentrated sugars. Some people, for example, have no problem choosing oatmeal and strawberries over a less healthy breakfast as long as the oatmeal and strawberries are sweetened with a little Splenda. Certainly, oatmeal, strawberries, and Splenda With Fiber are far better than, say, bagels and low-fat cream cheese. The Splenda, however, should not displace the strawberries – or any fruit, for that matter. Fruits are rich sources of fiber and disease-fighting nutrients and are a vital part of the Pritikin Program.