The Sweet Truth
The annual Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND) Symposium just wrapped up! Every year I look forward to networking with my fellow nutrition colleagues and hearing the latest about food, studies and nutrition to help me better serve my patients, clients and community. It’s a great place to experience and learn about new products, the latest technology, and emerging trends that affect our profession and the general public.
As Certified Diabetes Educator who works with bariatric patients, I often get questions about the safety and benefits of low-and-no calorie sweeteners and it’s a topic I follow closely at these conferences. One session on the unanticipated consequences of high intensity sweeteners caught my eye. However, I was alarmed because the session shared misleading information on alleged impacts of low-calorie ingredients – diet soda in particular – on weight and blood sugar. Overall, this session was more troubling than helpful. And I was disappointed the speaker focused her discussion on long-term prospective studies that cannot show cause and effect.
I wanted to set the record straight by sharing information on a recent study on the positive impact low-calorie beverages can have on weight. In June’s Obesity, (for my RD friends it is volume 22, number 6) James O. Hill and other authors compared two groups of participants in a 12-week weight loss program. One group drank at least one low- or no-calorie beverage (diet soda) a day and the other only drank water. Participants in the diet soda group lost significantly more weight and reported significantly greater reductions in feelings of hunger compared to the water group.
I was excited to see this research as it reaffirmed what I’ve seen in my own practice. Low-calorie sweetened foods and drinks are safe and can have a positive role in people’s diets – for those looking to reduce calorie or carbohydrate intake. It’s also good news for folks who are looking for low-calorie drink options and don’t like water or won’t drink water. Beverages with low- and no-calorie sweeteners can help keep calories balanced and help with hydration and weight maintenance.
In my opinion, until we can get more evidenced-based research showing that low- and no-calorie sweeteners are harmful, we should be careful of creating fear around these ingredients and the foods and drinks which contain them. Instead, we must educate people on energy balance, moderation, and portion control. We can also remind them that research and health organizations, like FAND, support the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners as part of a well-balanced diet and lifestyle.
As health professionals it is important to stay up to date on the latest on these topics so that we can serve a need to help educate our patients so that they can live happy balanced lifestyles.
Michelle J. Stewart is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator better known as the Nutrition Planner who has been leading the way to a healthier you for more than 25 years. Michelle is a Certified Wellness Coach whose motto is “EAT LESS MOVE MORE”. She is a consultant for the food and beverage industry, including The Coca-Cola Company, and offers expertise in corporate wellness, weight loss surgery, menu and product development. All opinions expressed are her own.