Worried artificial sweeteners will ramp up your appetite or that super-saccharine (albeit natural) drinks will skyrocket your blood sugar levels? If you're a young, healthy guy stressing over which is worse or which has a greater potential to make you fat, digest this new research: Artificial and real sugar have the same influence on your body as far as calorie consumption over the course of the day is concerned.
In the study, published in Springer Nature's International Journal of Obesity, researchers tested the influence four different beverages had on 30 healthy male participants. They were randomly assigned to consume one of four sweetened drinks on each day of the experiment. One beverage contained sugar (sucrose), another the artificial low-calorie sweetener aspartame, and the last two were made from the natural no-calorie sweeteners Stevia or monk fruit.
First, the men ate a standardized breakfast, then drank one of the test beverages mid-morning to tide them over until lunch, an hour later. They were instructed to eat until comfortably full, then their blood sugar and insulin concentrations were measured. The guys also jotted down what they ate for the rest of the day in a food journal.
Ultimately all of the sweeteners had a fairly similar effect on the men—a takeaway that was nothing short of "surprising," according to lead study author Siew Ling Tey. Even though the men did feel slightly hungrier, looked forward more to eating something again after they drank the artificially-sweetened beverages, and subsequently ate more, too, they didn't binge all day long—something other research has suggested might happen. In fact, there was no difference in the total number of calories the men consumed throughout the day whether they downed artificial or real sugar.
Here's why: "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," Tey explains. "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," says Tey.
One of many concerns over using fake sweeteners is an increase in appetite and overall calorie consumption, either because people genuinely feel hungrier or they feel justified in hunkering down with a Snickers because they made the "healthier" choice and opted for the diet iced tea or soda. But like most preliminary findings, take it with a grain of salt... or, rather, sugar. A recent comprehensive meta-analysis of long term studies found when non-nutritive sweeteners are consumed over a decent chunk of time, there's a sustained reduction in how many calories you eat and a drop in body weight. But there are also some health and nutrition experts who will say the fake stuff will do just the opposite.
In the grand scheme of things, consuming less sugar regardless of the source is a good goal. And, be honest: If you're guzzling cans of any sweetened beverage every day, you're going to gain weight whether it's diet or not. The bottom line here is that if you've decided you're going to imbibe in a sweetened beverage, it probably doesn't matter all that much for your waistline whether it's artificially or naturally sweetened.