How to Lose Weight #8: Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

Do you want to lose weight? Here’s part 8 of a 17-part series of blog posts. You can read all the posted tips on the How to Lose Weight-page.

8. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

Many people replace sugar with artificial sweeteners in the belief that this will reduce their calorie intake and cause weight loss. It sounds plausible. Several studies, however, have failed to show any positive effect on weight loss by consuming artificial sweeteners instead of plain sugar.

Instead, according to scientific studies, artificial sweeteners can increase appetite and maintain cravings for sweet food.

This could be because the body increases insulin secretion in anticipation that the sugar will appear in the blood. When this doesn’t happen, blood sugar drops and hunger increases. Whether this chain of events really take place is somewhat unclear (although something odd happened when I tested Pepsi Max). Nevertheless, artificial sweeteners can certainly maintain an addiction to sweets and lead to snack cravings. And the long term effects of consuming artificial sweeteners are unknown.

By the way, Stevia is marketed as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. That’s marketing talk. There is nothing natural about a processed super-sweet white powder like Stevia.

If you’re having trouble losing weight I suggest that you completely avoid sweeteners. As a bonus you’ll soon start to enjoy the natural sweetness of real food, once you’re no longer adapted to the overpowering artificial sweetness of junk food and “diet” sodas.

More: Read all posted tips on the How to Lose Weight-page.

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36 Comments

Top Comments

  1. Mark Sisson says: 80/20: until I've got the 80% lined up and running smoothly, I'll not worry about the 20% -- including the use of splenda...

    80/20 is a great start and may be all that's needed for most people. However, this advice is for people who have difficulties losing weight. They may have to choose between staying overweight or pushing the 80 percent to 90. Or even 95.

    Read more →
  2. Elenor
    I always find this sort of advice ... dismaying. The (alleged) reason for avoiding artificial sweeteners is nearly always that using them "causes" one to eat more later or eat more real sugar... (That is, the "injury" is something else, maybe -- or maybe not -- cued by the artificial sweeteners.)

    {shrug} I use Splenda (the liquid form, not the powder with maltodextrin). I do not have cravings for sweets (or anything else), nor do I 'make up for' hypothetical (but not apparent or tested -- by me or, seemingly, anyone else) insulin releases caused by the perception of sweetness. But, I see lots of 'warnings' against using splenda "because it might cause cravings." IF there were some actual medical reasons why not to use it (and I am keeping an eye on the "seasonal timing" concept: i.e., sweetness means fruit means laying in fat for the oncoming winter in the unknown, maybe unknowable "view" of the body' hormonal systems. I also watch the research into "splenda changes the gut 'biome' -- the flora and fauna in the gut." But there is nothing solidly concerning yet.

    I avoid aspartame because there do seem to be some solid medical reasons not to use it. I don't use stevia because of the horrid taste and because most of the "natural" stevia sweeteners are actually *mostly* sugar alcohol with a wee bit of stevia added so they can call it that! There are concerns about splenda/sucralose too... but they seem less solid, and until I see a pretty convincing reason to stop using it, it IS preferable to doing without.

    The old saying is: "pick your poison." There are so many other, higher-effect "possible poisons" out there, that I'll keep using splenda and wait till there is more convincing evidence that it's not acceptable. Mark Sisson says: 80/20: until I've got the 80% lined up and running smoothly, I'll not worry about the 20% -- including the use of splenda...

    Replies: #6, #30
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All Comments

  1. I'm on a LCHF diet and have totally cut out sugar (& starch etc) as well as artificial sweeteners and my sugar cravings have decreased dramatically. When I first tried to go LCHF (a few months ago) I failed dismally as I still craved sweet food. I believe I fell short the first time because I was still taking sweeteners in my tea, drinking loads of diet soda and eating artificially sweetened food. I cannot agree enough that artificial sweeteners make a LCHF diet far more difficult than if you just cut out all sweeteners and sugars.
  2. Estelle
    I have been doing LCHF for a month now. Being previously ADDICTED to sugar, this is a massive milestone. I am battling to give up on artificial sweeteners. I have drastically reduced the amount of tea I have per day and sip on coke zero once a week. My goal is to get to the point where I wont be using any. A month without sugar and bread.....WOW! Taking this one day at a time.
  3. This is a typical issue for sugar addicted countries like USA. Each culture has it's own. For a frenchman like me, the hard part is cuting down on bread !!
    As an exemple, I had never heard of sugar cravings before I started looking at american studies.
  4. Elenor
    I always find this sort of advice ... dismaying. The (alleged) reason for avoiding artificial sweeteners is nearly always that using them "causes" one to eat more later or eat more real sugar... (That is, the "injury" is something else, maybe -- or maybe not -- cued by the artificial sweeteners.)

    {shrug} I use Splenda (the liquid form, not the powder with maltodextrin). I do not have cravings for sweets (or anything else), nor do I 'make up for' hypothetical (but not apparent or tested -- by me or, seemingly, anyone else) insulin releases caused by the perception of sweetness. But, I see lots of 'warnings' against using splenda "because it might cause cravings." IF there were some actual medical reasons why not to use it (and I am keeping an eye on the "seasonal timing" concept: i.e., sweetness means fruit means laying in fat for the oncoming winter in the unknown, maybe unknowable "view" of the body' hormonal systems. I also watch the research into "splenda changes the gut 'biome' -- the flora and fauna in the gut." But there is nothing solidly concerning yet.

    I avoid aspartame because there do seem to be some solid medical reasons not to use it. I don't use stevia because of the horrid taste and because most of the "natural" stevia sweeteners are actually *mostly* sugar alcohol with a wee bit of stevia added so they can call it that! There are concerns about splenda/sucralose too... but they seem less solid, and until I see a pretty convincing reason to stop using it, it IS preferable to doing without.

    The old saying is: "pick your poison." There are so many other, higher-effect "possible poisons" out there, that I'll keep using splenda and wait till there is more convincing evidence that it's not acceptable. Mark Sisson says: 80/20: until I've got the 80% lined up and running smoothly, I'll not worry about the 20% -- including the use of splenda...

    Replies: #6, #30
  5. Ash
    As far as i know sugar alcohols do not raise your blood sugar hence do not induce an insulin response.
  6. Mark Sisson says: 80/20: until I've got the 80% lined up and running smoothly, I'll not worry about the 20% -- including the use of splenda...

    80/20 is a great start and may be all that's needed for most people. However, this advice is for people who have difficulties losing weight. They may have to choose between staying overweight or pushing the 80 percent to 90. Or even 95.

  7. This is definitely a controversial issue.

    Out of all the studies I've looked at on artificial sweeteners and weight gain/metabolic disease they almost invariably seem to be positively associated.

    Of course correlation doesn't equal causation, but I think a fair warning is in order until large-scale clinical trials have been performed.

    Personally I choose to stay away from all artificial sweeteners, don't like the way they make me feel anyway.

    "Guilty until proven innocent" is how I view all artificial chemicals present in food.

  8. murray
    I am agnostic on sweeteners. I have not personally noticed any effect regarding weight gain. I have given up sweeteners and what I did notice is that my taste is much more sensitive to sweetness in foods. Romaine lettuce hearts taste like candy now. Raw fresh cranberries are just right, wild blueberries are on the sweet side. Most fruit is off the dial too sweet. Fresh heavy cream is a sweet treat ("sweet cream"), I generally prefer creme fraiche now, perhaps with cranberries or Saskatoon berries. And a good 100% chocolate is divine, as you can taste the natural sweetness and the chocolates notes are not obscured by added sugar or sweeteners. Adding sweeteners to great chocolate is like adding honey to a great espresso.
  9. Michael
    "There is nothing natural about a processed super-sweet white powder like Stevia."

    @Dr.Eenfeldt: I use the sweet natural colored green stevia powder that comes from dried leaves. It's natural. The white powder is simply a concentrated extract which means you need less of it to get the sweet taste. It's still natural. The stevia drops are my favorite.

    Stevia = plant. Stevia powder = extract of the plant. It's simple. I really don't understand your argument about Stevia being not-natural so therefore bad. It could be natural AND bad at the same time and it also could be un-natural AND good (or simply neutral) at the same time.

    If some people get sugar cravings after using Stevia then it deserves a warning but how many people do get sugar cravings after using Stevia? If it's a minority then there's no need to bash stevia. Please.

  10. Zepp
    "If you’re having trouble losing weight I suggest that you completely avoid sweeteners."

    Its an advice for those how have problem losing weight!

    An healty normal weight person do have more choises!

    And I think its moste a problem to let sugary food out of ones mind!

  11. Haggus
    If you have difficulties losing weight, I wouldn't hesitate cutting out sweeteners of any kind. That said, in my 100 pound drop I used thousands of the artificial sweeteners packets without any problems. I continue to use them today, five years later, as they make living this way easy.
  12. This is very interesting. I have been putting sugar free sweetener in my coffee for years - but I'll try it with more milk instead. It might take me some time to get used to though!!
  13. Zepp
    And if you have problems to lose weight, try to avoid to much dairys to!!

    Like milk, in coffe.

    Its about those how have problems to lose weight.. not any magic solutions for weightloss.

    Sweet taste has an apetite increasing mecanism.. and if one have problems to lose weight one should go for such a food that not increas apetite.

    One seldom eat some extra butter on a spone after dinner.. but there is always room for som sweet viped cream with berries!

    Reply: #17
  14. Fabian
    you're always focused on losing weight. the most people who follow a low carb diet are not fat anymore. i have a bmi just over 20. i love artificial sweeterns. don't know if they are perfect for your, but they are better than sugar. so that's good enough for me.

    it would be great if you would tweak your articles so they're also relevant for people with normal weight.

    Reply: #28
  15. Spleda has been a god send and makes being on a low carb diet very easy. I wouldn't be able to stay on the diet without a Coke Zero every once in awhile or spleda in my morning coffee. I have lost significant weight on LCHF using artifical sweetners. Telling people not to use sweeteners will result in failed change in diet life style to LCHF for too many and harm our movement.

    I think the most important advice this site gives is that it is not just low carb diet. I believe most of the people fail because they are afraid to replace carbs with fat. Its important to emphasizing its Low Carb yes, but the High Fat (LCHF) part is very important. Please keep demonstrating with science that fat in the diet is not bad for you.

  16. NM
    I fear the DietDoctor slides too far into pseudoscientific naturalistic fallacy here. Whether stevia is more or less "natural" won't tell you whether it's more or less good for you: deadly-nightshade is PERFECTLY natural, after all, as is botulism!

    The scientist judges something by its effects and mechanism, not by its place on a nature-graph! And to that end, stevia and erythritol have *never* been shown to induce an insulin spike, nor raised blood sugar. Quite the contrary.

  17. murray
    Hey, I eat extra butter from a spoon after dinner. It's really good butter from cows grazing on fast-growing grass. Deep yellow. Over 94% butterfat. Mmmm. Rich flavour.
    Reply: #20
  18. Sorry to disagree, but I've found no I'll effects to a small amount of Stevia once a day. It doesn't cause cravings for sweets and has not had any effect on blood sugar that I've been able to track.
  19. Sophie
    I have done small translation work on the issue and in the source I was working with, sweeteners trigger cravings for sweet because somehow throughout the course of your life your body learns to expect a certain amount of calories from a certain level of sweetness. If you perceive an X level of sweetness and that the artificial sweetener fails to bring those calories to your body, it will react with a craving to get those calories into your system.
    It can take time to get rid of the cravings. I have noticed that now that I cut out ALL sugars and starches, including fruit, when I drink a diet coke, I can have strong cravings for a long period of time.
    I prefer the bitterness of food to the weird taste of sweeteners.
    One trick I have for those learning to live without sugar is to use unsweetened cocoa powder. I stir it in plain yogurt and I have learn to really love the unadulterated rich taste of cocoa.
  20. Zepp
    Seldome I wrote.. and you is probably extraordinary.. ot the butter is extraordinary?

    I can reveal that Erytriol is quite popular among Swedish lowcarbers.. and many seems to lose weight anyhow.

    The advice is to those how have problems to lose weight.. and its probably moste about its increas ones apetite!

    Replies: #21, #22
  21. murray
    Zepp, the butter is indeed extraordinary. One result of going LCHF is that I have become a lipid connoisseur. I can no longer abide supermarket butter, for example. In most restaurants the first thing I do is taste the butter or olive oil as a touchstone for what's to come. I let the servers bring the bread basket so they will supply some butter or olive oil without explanation. If the butter or olive oil is first rate, here is a chef who pays attention to details that matter. To your point, though, I never crave a large amount of butter. Eating butter does not set off lipid cravings.
  22. JAUS
    Bullshit, Zepp. You have no evidence that erythriol increases appitite at all. Stevia on the hand does indeed increase apitite but that's because it increases the insulin in the body wich erythriol does not. I have many times critizied these kind of blanket generalizations about sweeteners from Doc, they are very unscientific.

    I recommend this Youtube clip instead: http://youtu.be/VUo2XW0z218

    The sweeteners that I recommend are: Sucralose (yes, I know it's artficial, it's still better than most, if not all, 'natural' sweeteners), erythriol and yacon syrup (do not mix it up with agave syrup wich is 'plant honey'). I don't recommend stevia it tastes bad gives me a headache and does infact increase the insuline level in the blood wich makes you hungry.

  23. Lisa
    What about items that are "naturally" sweet-tasting such as herbal tea, or chai tea with spices? Is it believed that the sweet taste alone stimulates appetite?
  24. Margaretrc
    Mark Sisson has a different take on Stevia: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/stevia/#axzz2DdfkjGr4 It may even be beneficial and doesn't have the negative effects of artificial sweeteners. Personally, I notice no increase in appetite when using Stevia. If anything, it curbs it. Yes, refined Stevia is no more (or less) natural than refined sugar. But it is not artificial, as in chemically manufactured, either, as are aspartame and sucralose. I will continue to use Stevia in moderation, while avoiding, as much as possible, the artificial sweeteners. Everyone can and should make up their own mind, though.
  25. Amanda
    What about xylitol? It is supposed to be low GI and brilliant for the teeth. It is a sugar substitute but would you say it is no good also?

    I use in my coffee and I give my toddler little xylitol meringues to protect his teeth. thoughts on xylitol??

  26. Zepp
    "Xylitol is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, and can be extracted from various berries, oats, and mushrooms, as well as fibrous material such as corn husks and sugar cane bagasse,[3][4] and birch.[5] However, industrial production starts from xylan (a hemicellulose) extracted from hardwoods or corncobs, which is hydrolyzed into xylose and catalytically hydrogenated into xylitol."

    And keep it away from any pets, it could kill them!

    "Dogs that have ingested foods containing xylitol (greater than 100 milligrams of xylitol consumed per kilogram of bodyweight) have presented with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can be life-threatening."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylitol

  27. Ed Terry
    A couple of years ago, after being LCHF for a while, I decided to eliminate artificial sweeteners for one month. My sugar cravings did not disappear nor did my appetite. However, 3 weeks into the experiment, my wife was eating a clementine and she had to spit it out because it was too sour. I asked for a piece and I had to spit it out because it was too sweet, a sensation I had never experienced before. I was not happy. However, I did continue to avoid any sweeteners, primarily because it removed the need of virtue to stay away from anything sweet.

    Nowadays, anything sweeter than a berry is very unpleasant. It's remarkable what the elimination of any form of sweetener has done to my taste buds. People also look at me strange when I tell them I don't eat sweets. It's an alien concept to most of them, as it was for me for 53 years.

  28. Age is definitely a factor; as people age there are fewer tolerances. Younger men have a distinct advantage because of a higher level of growth hormone, greater muscle mass, etc. Women usually struggle more with carb or sweet cravings, and these grow stronger with perimenopause and menopause.
    I agree that if you don't have a weight or health issue now, sticking to a hflc eating will probably keep you from having the kinds of carb cravings someone of my generation is likely to struggle with.
  29. Diane
    Sweeteners are unnecessary so why waste the money when you can spend your money on better things to eat and drink? I find fruit to be extremely sweet. Sweet potatoes may as well be a pastry. Even black coffee and liver taste sweet to me these days.
  30. Your reply to this post could have been written by me. I have an average of 1-1/2 cups of coffee daily, and I can only enjoy it sweetened. I like Splenda, so I use the liquid flavored zero calorie Monin brand, and if that's not available, 3-4 packets in each cup (5-6 if I get Starbuck's).

    I'm a newbie to LCHF. I did try Atkins once many years ago, but did not understand the importance of fat, and after 20 lbs., remained stuck and finally just gave up.

    Two years ago I had an epiphany, or something, and I began portion control eating whole grains, fish, veggies and fruit. I went from 235 lbs. to 185 lbs., then stuck there until I got stricter with my food, and lost another 10-15 lbs. but I was always hungry and I gained back to the 185lbs. Now I am on LCHF, not losing weight yet, even gained a couple lbs., but I have NO SWEET CRAVINGS AT ALL, and I am rarely hungry (and when I am hungry, I don't feel panic and can take my time getting my food together.

  31. Artificial sweeteners are really bad for you and can easily help you pack on the weight.
  32. I guess my question is, if that's the case, how did I manage to lose 50 lbs using it, and I find even now on LCHF, it doesn't bother me. If it helps keep me off the carbs, what's the harm? I have yet to see any studies that prove it is bad. Help me with this, because I'm truly open to understanding and change.
  33. Zepp
    Its an advice in a serie of advices.. to think about for beginners!

    Some have a problem with sweets.. ie, somthing to try if one dont loose weight.

  34. Gunnar
    Something that I realised when I was drinking light products was that I always felt hungry after consuming such products. I read something about aspartam as blocking the signals from the stumach to the brain that I am full and satisfied. So in the process I eat more food and gain more weight when consuming these products.
  35. nenolan
    I don't generally have a sweet tooth as I tend to crave the salty snack foods myself. I've also lost weight using low fat or fat free yogurts and artificial sweeteners (Splenda or Equal) in the past so I don't get the idea of how I should avoid them if I want to lose weight? I just amp up my fiber intake and that helps to keep me feeling full. I guess I'm expecting someone to tell me any day now that fiber is now no good for me.
  36. tomi
    I disagree about the statement regarding stevia. I saw how it is being transformed into powder and then used by people. 100% natural.
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