ATLANTA – A new review of research shows low-calorie sweeteners may be one piece of the puzzle in helping solve the obesity problem.  Although not magic bullets, low-calorie sweeteners and the products that contain sugar substitutes can help people reduce their calorie intake.  The authors point out that low-calorie sweeteners are not appetite suppressants and they do not cause weight loss, but “… they have been shown to be associated with some modest weight loss….”

The study by Bellisle and Drewnowski, published in the June issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, evaluated a variety of laboratory, clinical and epidemiological studies regarding low-calorie sweeteners, energy density and satiety.  Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington and co-author of the study, noted, “This review of a variety of studies indicates that low-calorie sweeteners and the products that contain them may assist in weight loss efforts.”

This study supports an earlier review by Dr. Barbara Rolls with Pennsylvania State University, which examined the effects of low-calorie sweeteners on hunger, appetite and food intake.  In her review, Dr. Rolls concluded:  “If the individual uses the consumption of a low-calorie food as an excuse to eat a high-calorie food, or if the individual is not actively trying to restrict intake, daily energy intake may remain unchanged.  However, if intense sweeteners are part of a weight-control program, they could aid calorie control by providing palatable foods with reduced energy.  It needs to be stressed that there are no data suggesting that consumption of foods and drinks with intense sweeteners promotes food intake and weight gain in dieters.”

Unfortunately, information that low-calorie sweeteners and the products that contain them can cause weight gain has been circulating.  However, Bellisle and Drewnowski state that such findings (from Davidson and Swithers, 2004) have not been replicated and other studies have failed to show that low-calorie sweeteners stimulate appetite or have an adverse effect on satiety.

“Low-calorie sweeteners and reduced-calorie products are not magic bullets, which means using these products will not result in automatic weight loss.  Instead, people looking to lose or maintain weight, can use low-calorie sweeteners in addition to other tools (such as portion control, exercise, etc.) to help manage their calories,” said Drewnowski.

A recent 2006 study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting further supports the usefulness of low-calorie sweeteners in weight control.  The study found that by eliminating 100 calories from the diet (using products sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener) and adding physical activity, children lost or maintained weight.  A review of sixteen studies published in Nutrition Bulletin in 2006 also found that people who used low-calorie sweetened products were able to reduce their energy intake by approximately 10 percent.  Further, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Food Science found that people who use reduced-calorie products had a better overall diet – meaning their diets had higher levels of vitamins and minerals.  Although those studied were eating fewer calories overall, they were also eating more healthfully.

The bottom line states Robin Steagall, a dietitian with the Calorie Control Council, “Calories count and using low-calorie sweeteners to help reduce overall caloric intake without sacrificing taste is a winning weight control strategy.”