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Can artificial sweeteners help control body weight and prevent obesity?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2007

David Benton*
Department of Psychology, University of Wales Swansea, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK
Corresponding author: Dr David Benton, fax +44 1792 295 679, email
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The possible role played by artificial sweeteners in the long-term maintenance of body weight is considered. Although artificial sweeteners can play a role in a short-term energy-controlled diet, the evidence that they are helpful over a longer period is limited. In those in the recommended weight range there is evidence of compensation; that is, the consumption of low-energy foods is followed by an increased energy intake to make up the lost energy. Energy compensation is more likely in those not displaying dietary restraint. The desire to remove sugar from the diet reflects an assumption that its intake is associated with obesity. However, the consumption of energy-dense food, that almost entirely reflects a high fat and low water content, is the best predictor of obesity. Diets offering a high proportion of energy in the form of carbohydrate tend to contain low levels of fat. There are several reports that the use of artificial sweeteners leads to an increased consumption of fat. The weak ability of fat to satisfy hunger makes it easy to overeat fatty foods; in contrast, carbohydrates promote a feeling of ‘fullness’. Various short-term studies have found that carbohydrate consumed as a liquid, rather than a solid, is more likely to result in weight gain.

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