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Sugar or Sweetener—Which is Better?

Does it matter whether you consume sugar-free drinks (with sweeteners) or those with sugar? A new study published in the International Journal of Obesity offers insight into the topic of sugar and sweeteners.

The war between sugar and sweeteners has been raging since some time now. A new study looks into the way both types affect our body in terms of appetite. The team of researchers wanted to find out whether healthy young men looking to stay fit and not taking too much weight can drink sugary drinks or those with natural or artificial sweeteners. Their results show that what matters is not one’s choice, but rather, the response of one’s body to the compound.

Led by Siew Ling Tey from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, the researchers tested four different types of drinks containing one of the following:

  1. Sugar (sucrose)
  2. Aspartame, an artificial non-nutritive sweetener (NNS)
  3. Natural NNS obtained from plant Stevia
  4. Natural NNS obtained from monk fruit

The participation of 30 men was enlisted, and these volunteers had to consume either one of the drinks in mid-morning after having a standardised breakfast, and then to later have lunch until satiety. They also had to record everything they ate in a food diary. Their blood glucose level and insulin concentrations were closely monitored throughout.

Surprisingly, as explains Tey, no difference in the total daily energy intake was found among the men of the different groups—all participants had consumed the same quantity of calories on a daily basis.

The study is pertinent in today’s context whereby people tend to think that having NNS might increase appetite, which would cause them to eat too much such that they would gain the very energy they were meaning to lose by not consuming sugar. The new findings show that this is not absolute, as the participants did not show energy gain when consuming sweeteners.

“The energy ‘saved’ from replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at subsequent meals in the current study, hence no difference in total daily energy intake was found between the four treatments,” explains Tey.

“It appears that the source of non-nutritive sweeteners, whether artificial or natural, does not differ in its effects on energy intake, postprandial glucose and insulin.”

However, the volunteers did eat more after taking the NNS drinks than when they had the drinks with sugar.

On the other hand, another recent research shows that consuming NNS over a prolonged period of time can lead to a decrease in overall energy intake, thereby causing weight loss.


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