You know that long running joke about people who go to a restaurant and order a giant burger and fries, then a diet Coke? We see it all the time. It really doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, if you’re going to gorge on a giant burger and a large fries, do you really think that buying the diet drink is really going to help make it all better? It turns out, some people really do. Research apparently suggests that many individuals believe that diet sodas “cancel-out” excess calories consumed through food.

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Although I do have to say that if you’re going to buy (and eat) a very high calorie and fat meal, it’s not such a bad thing to then buy a “diet soda”. While it may seem counterproductive, it’s better than adding more salt to the wound!

Non-nutritive sweeteners (those that do not provide any calories) were initially designed to promote weight loss and/or weight management, but do they? Today’s Dietitian Magazine recently posted an article about whether or not calorie-free sweeteners help people lose weight. The bottom line was that the jury is still out. Some research shows that they do help with weight loss, but other research shows that they do not. In my opinion, it depends on the self-control of the person using the sweetener, as well as the attention that is paid to what they are putting in their mouth!

Much of the research has been done on whether or not non-nutritive sweeteners actually make you feel hungrier. Once again, the jury is still out (but from the article it seems like most research indicates no increase in hunger). The following are some tips on how to use non-nutritive (artificial or natural) sweeteners to your advantage.

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  • Don’t fall into the “fat free” trap or the “I exercised, so I can eat what I want” trap. I’ve met many people who will buy fat free versions of their favorite foods, and then eat twice as much, therefore defeating the purpose of buying the fat free (or reduced fat) food. Similarly, I have met people (Nick being one of them, at times…) who will workout hard one day only to go through the day thinking, “I worked out hard today, I deserve to eat this food!”. Once again, that defeats most of the purpose of the workout. Non-nutritive sweeteners also provide a perfect opportunity for a “trap”. People may eat something or drink something that is “diet” and therefore they might subconsciously eat more at their next meal simply because they figure theycan because their last snack (or drink) was low calorie or calorie free. Come on, we’ve all done it! But really, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
  • If you are using non-nutritive sweeteners for weight loss or weight management, use them to replace sugar in your diet, not to allow more sweets in your diet. You’ve all met that person who is a sugar addict. Hey, it may even be you!So, these non-nutritive sweeteners start to pop up on the shelves and all of a sudden you can eat more sweet foods, but without all the guilt! You’ll still eat that cake every day after lunch, and you’ll still drink that pop for dinner, but now instead of drinking your coffee black, you’ll make it “sweet” by adding a non-nutritive sweetener, and then instead of drinking water with lunch, you’ll allow yourself a pop, but it’ll be diet. So, you have used non-nutritive sweeteners to get more of that sweet taste, not to cut down on your sugar intake. Not so effective.

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  • Watch out for that placebo effect. Ok, so what I mean by that is this; When you drink a diet drink, which contains artificial or evennatural calorie-free sweeteners, do you feel more hungry afterwards? I don’t think I ever did, until I started reading research that basically said, “artificial and natural non-calorie sweeteners make our brain confused by providing something sweet with zero calories, therefore making us crave more sugar”. So, now that I’ve read that, the placebo effect has kicked in and whenever I drink a diet pop I seem to think I’m more hungry afterwards. Darn you research! I think what I’m trying to get at here is that the effects of artificial and natural non-calorie sweeteners, in my opinion, are all in our head. I think that now when I do use non-nutritive sweeteners, I assume I must be hungrier afterwards, only because some research has shown that. Anyone else with me on this?!?! Annoying!

QUESTION: Do you use non-nutritive sweeteners? What are your thoughts on them? Good, bad, neutral? I like the more natural non-nutritive sweeteners, such as the ones that use Stevia as the main ingredient. To me they taste like sugar, and I can use them to replace sugar in most everything I eat. I am very diligent about watching my sugar intake, so the natural non-nutritive sweeteners (used in moderation) really work for me in my efforts to maintain a healthy weight.