The dangers of eating too much sugar have been well-documented; not only can it cause weight gain, but it can also lead to other health complications such as diabetes and heart disease. In an effort to cut back on sugar, many people have replaced it with zero-calorie sweetener alternatives including Splenda (sucralose) and Equal (aspartame), or switched to diet foods such as diet soda and sugar-free candy. And although these sweeteners have no calories, they could cause just as many health problems as regular sugar, according to a new study.
The research, conducted on rats and cell cultures, examined how zero-calorie sweeteners affect biochemical changes in the body. It also looked at how these artificial sweeteners impact the lining of blood vessels. Researchers fed different groups of rats diets either high in regular sugar (glucose or fructose), or zero-calorie sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). After three weeks, the results suggested that artificial sweeteners change how the body processes fat and gets its energy. Furthermore, acesulfame potassium seemed to accumulate in the blood and had a more harmful effect on the cells that line blood vessels.
"Despite the addition of these non-caloric artificial sweeteners to our everyday diets, there has still been a drastic rise in obesity and diabetes," lead researcher Brian Hoffmann, PhD, said, according to Science Daily. "In our studies, both sugar and artificial sweeteners seem to exhibit negative effects linked to obesity and diabetes, albeit through very different mechanisms from each other." He added that replacing sugars with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners leads to negative changes in fat and energy metabolism.
Although research is still up in the air about whether sugar or artificial sweeteners are worse for you, it's clear that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners won't automatically make you healthier or even necessarily lose weight. These findings prove it's best to eat both in moderation and put down that diet soda — you're better off sticking to naturally sweetened seltzer instead.