September 22, 2017

Do you take your coffee black, or do you put a little something in it? Many Americans reach for an artificial sweetener if they’re concerned about their waistlines. But it turns out, the health benefits of sugar substitutes aren’t so simple. We spoke with University of Manitoba assistant professor Meghan Azad about her meta-analysis (a study of studies) on how artificial sweeteners could actually contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Then, a conversation with University of California, Davis professor of American studies Carolyn Thomas about her book, Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda.

Three Takeaways 

  • An artificial sweetener creates the perception of sweet taste, possibly tricking your body into thinking you’re eating sugar, according to Azad. This might cause your metabolism to reset and eventually lead to more weight gain.
  • How did artificial sweetener companies sell Americans on their product? Creative marketing, of course! In the ‘80s NutraSweet sent out millions of gumballs in the mail. The surprise gift was meant to convince people that everyday products were just as good — maybe even better — when made with sugar substitutes.
  • The Calorie Control Council, a lobbying group that supports artificial sweeteners, still says these sweeteners are a good way to control weight and says Azad's study “paints with too broad a brush.” You can read their full response to Azad’s study here.

More reading 

innovation hub, Meghan Azad, artificial sweeteners, Kara Miller, Carolyn Thomas, WGBH, pri

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