The study found that not only were artificial sweeteners dodgy when it came to weight management, but people who drank them routinely had an increased body mass index and risk of developing cardiovascular disease. “I think originally it was calories were the problem, and we’ve made something that was zero calories, so we’re good,” Azad told The Washington Post. “But we’re learning that it’s not just about the calories.” Across the studies they evaluated: “Nonnutritive sweeteners (are) significantly associated with modest long-term increases” in body weight, BMI and waist circumference, the researchers concluded.
A link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain appears to exist, Azad said, but the reason is elusive. Maybe, she postulated, the body tastes sweetness and still thinks it’s eating sugar and rejiggers its metabolic processes accordingly. Or maybe there’s an unknown biological switch that’s triggered by the chemicals in artificial sweeteners. The reason could be in people’s heads, as consuming a steady stream of artificially sweet foods might make people more likely to choose calorie-packed sweets the rest of the time. For now, she said, the best advice is for consumers to not automatically assume artificially sweetened foods are the healthier alternative.