Can Splenda Help Weight Loss?

By Jim F

i-1276b50c890ce70b10806292e3ad0a90-splenda.jpgMore and more evidence is emerging that using artificial sweeteners may be something of a false economy.

In Mike’s list of Food Additives – Splenda is placed in the ‘safe’ category as far as health goes. It is worth noting that not everyone agrees with such an assessment.

However there are other factors at play than just safety. Do these sweeteners really help in the battle of the bulge?Two pieces of research over the last 6 months paint a confusing picture.

1. It’s the sugar calories that make us feel good – not the sweetness.

New Scientist refers to a study in Neuron. The research involved testing sweet signals on mice. The mice were genetically engineered to have their ‘sweet-sensors’ removed (poor mice!). The mice still preferred genuine sugar to the sucralose-sweetened sugar.

When the sweet-oblivious mice swilled sugar water rich in calories, their brains produced lots of dopamine. Calorie free – but still sweet-tasting – water sparked little dopamine production in the rodents’ brains,

2. The palate may not tell the difference – but the brain does.

Sciam refers to another new study in Neuron that involved an MRI scan of 12 healthy women. The women were sipping water sweetened with either sugar (sucrose) or Splenda (sucralose). The conclusions of the lead author are enlightening:

[..] when we taste Splenda, the reward system becomes activated but not satiated. “Our hypoth­esis is that Splenda has less of a feedback mechanism to stop the craving, to get satisfied.”

So What Now?

One of the lead authors of the former study said this “You might drink diet sodas to try and cut down on the calories, but you’re likely to replace them in some other way. I developed this habit for drinking diet sodas, and I don’t think I lost any weight.”

That’s something worth pondering on.

32 Comments

  1. Pamela Bourque

    I have other health issues keeping me from losing weight. I do use Splenda, though. I drink a lot of coffee (my last vice and I’m not giving it up!) and I like it sweet!

    I also have hypoglycemia. Sugar drives it crazy. I can use Splenda and keep it happy.

    I’ve never noticed any side effects.

    But please don’t ever use equal. The side effects of that rival diseases like MS and fibromyalgia! Horrible things!

    Reply
  2. Shannon

    I wonder if they also tested the mice with a mixture of splenda and sugar. I just started using splenda to help me cut back on the sugar in my coffee. Normally I add three to four sugars, eight if it is Starbucks coffee. I don’t like the taste of artifical sweetners, but decided this week to try mixing splenda with sugar to see if it was any better. So far so good, maybe I’ll try straight splenda next week.

    Reply
  3. terry tibs

    terry tibs talk to me…..im loving coke zero as a replacement for the normal coke im just hoping i dont find out in a while that the sweetners make coke zero as bad as the normal coke…..thankyou and much love

    Reply
  4. Angie

    Gabrielle and Reader – I am with you. I think most of the commenters missed the point of the above mentioned study. It is the subconscious level the scientists were studying. The negative effects of artificial sweeteners, if any, will occur over a longer period of time. We won’t feel sudden cravings as soon as we drink a soda. I have studied Physiological Psychology extensively and human reason and intelligence has less to do with our behavior than most realize. Our brain physiology dictates a lot of our behavior in the short and long term.

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  5. Adam

    I manage a restaurant and watch SOOOOO MANY over weight people order the most fattening and unhealthy things possible. They will add extra bacon, ranch, mayo, butter, cheese, etc. They will order appetizers too. Then what do they wash it down with… (drum roll)….. a DIET COKE!

    Do they like the taste of diet coke more then regular? Do they think it matters? I feel bad for them.

    Also people who order diet coke drink a LOT of diet coke. People who order regular coke usually don’t drink as much. This is of course not always the case but for the most part it’s true. Just some observations working in a restaurant day after day.

    Just drink water!

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  6. susan

    I feel 1000% better since giving up all artificial sweeteners last fall. I didn’t even have much — one diet soda a day and Splenda in desserts sometimes. I rarely have headaches now and I’m much less hungry between meals.

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  7. Spectra

    We also have to remember that this study was done on mice. Mice are not exactly the smartest creatures on earth…they don’t reason like we can. They just go on instinct and what feels good to them. Humans have logic/reasoning ability and we can CHOOSE to not act on our cravings if we so desire. Just because drinking a diet soda instead of a regular one makes you somehow crave actual sugar, you don’t have to act on that craving. I find that if I crave sugar, eating some protein quenches that craving pretty quickly.

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  8. Reader

    Your Readers have totally missed your good point, and that of the study. It’s not about CHOOSING to replace/take in calories that you’ve “missed” due to eating/drinking with Splenda.

    It’s that our chemical-based bodies have been hard-wired to know the difference between ‘real’ and ‘necessary-to-survival- calories that are in sweet sugar, and the ‘fake’ sweetness that provides no chemical ‘energy/fuel’ to our bodies — SO our bodies think they have not received the necessary amount of calories and it continues to crave sweets/fats that will deliver those calories. We are hard-wired to survive, although modern living makes that generally unnecessary in our country. You may have learned to overcome that hard-wiring, but the studies are about the CHEMICAL reactions that trigger ancient biological needs.

    Good post, despite the comments.

    Reply
  9. Supplements Canada

    I heard that artificial sweeteners stimulate your appetite in some way? I wonder if that is an actual fact?

    Reply
  10. Teri

    Thanks Alvin… I couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t like drinking plain water. Splenda has gotten me to drink all the water I need to. Now I have actually gotten to the point where I WILL drink a plain bottle of water as well. But when I eat my normal 1500 calories a day, I may want a diet pepsi to go with that because I like the fizz, but not the calories. It’s somehow satisfying to me. I don’t eat extra calories in the day because of that! Actually I think that is what keeps me on track, I don’t feel that I have to cheat, because of the fact that I DID have something sweet.

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  11. cari

    Rebecca, I also really don’t like the taste of any of these artificial sweeteners – for me they all taste synthetic and I don’t like the flavour they leave in my mouth. I keep sugar in my home only to make hummingbird syrup and if I’m going to have a cup of coffee – I only use honey.

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  12. Lose weight for life

    That is interesting. I still think we are better off having diet drinks or coke zero for instance as much of our cravings are emotional driven and we are not actually hungry. To get past emotional eating (or drinking) we often just need a distraction. A diet drink might be just the distraction needed to get you past the emotional craving.

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  13. Gabrielle

    Artificial sweeteners will only work at a psychological level. They don’t contain what the human body requires in order to survive; they imitate it in order to generate an immediate response in the taste sections of our brain. Beyond that, however, our bodies are well able to tell the difference. If the reason for eating or drinking artificial sweeteners is a psychological one – eating as habit or socially out of boredom or restlessness – then it is as likely to work as anything else. If you are looking to replace the physiological affects of sugar which happen at a subconscious level and are often the reasons for consuming said carbon compound, artificial sweeteners will not satisfy your need for it. It is also important not to ignore the other health risks associated with products such as Splenda.

    Reply
  14. Alvin Brinson

    One note about the artificial sodas – with VERY FEW exceptions, none of them use Splenda. Since the original topic was referring to Splenda, I think diet drinks are a bit off topic.

    However, I will mention them as well.

    If you are drinking sodas because you are HUNGRY — well then you’re not going to be doing any good drinking a diet soda. You should be eating, not drinking – duh.

    If, however, you are like me and just like to have something to drink regularly and are not trying to substitute for a lack of food – then I call BS on such studies. I’m going to drink 2 or 3 cokes a day regardless of whether they have sugar, splenda, or other sweeteners. Should I just accept the extra 600 calories of 3 colas AND continue to eat? Heck no – and to do so would be stupid.

    When I fix iced tea or coffee – I use Splenda as well. The icey cold of the tea, or the caffeine hotness of the coffee is what’s good. I don’t drink them for the SUGAR, that’s why I EAT. However, I can’t STAND the TASTE of unsweetened coffee or tea, thus I use Splenda when I make them.

    I think the mistake here is when people are substituting diet drinks/snacks for proper nourishment. If you’re doing that – YOU WILL FAIL. If, however, you are substituting diet drinks/snacks for unnecessary parts of your diet, and making sure to fulfill your cravings with a good meal at the same time, then you’re going to find as many others do that over the long term, substituting splenda based sweetener in your drinks, or even the not-so-safe other sweeteners – will indeed aid in weight loss.

    I think part of the problem is that such studies don’t look at varying types of weight loss goals. Someone who is already on a starvation diet – say 600 calories a day – is probably going to eat something else to make up for sugars lost by using Splenda, et al. However, if you’re eating 2000 calories a day, then ON TOP OF THAT, 600 calories in high fructose corn syrup from a several cans of cola – then yes, you WILL lose weight if you switch to an artificially sweetened cola.

    In my case, I don’t have a lot of choices on what to eat at work if I don’t bring my lunch. So if I end up having a sugar drop at work, or have to stay extra hours, I buy a candy bar and a diet dr. pepper. People have joked to me at work about that combination, as if the one undoes the other. So, why have 400 calories – candy bar and h.f.c.s. based cola, when you can have 200 calories – candy bar and diet cola – and that’s enough to keep you going? It has worked for me. I’ve lost 35lb in the last year from 285 to 250. Admittedly not a lot – but it is more than I’ve ever lost in the 15 years since high school – and I’m keeping it off. This – despite a high pasta diet due to financial difficulties.

    It all comes down to intelligent decision-making and looking at your WHOLE diet, not just one part of it.

    Reply
  15. Dave

    You are still sending a sweet signal to the brain from the taste buds.

    You are much better off with natural sugars like fruit.

    Reply
  16. Spectra

    Ah yes, the “Double Cheeseburger and Fries with a Diet Coke” syndrome. I have always actually preferred the taste of diet sodas/drinks to those sweetened with sugar, probably because when I WAS allowed to drink soda as a kid, it was always diet soda. Regular soda tastes too sweet/syrupy to me. But when I was fat, I never really counted ANY calories at all and I just figured “Hey, diet soda’s gotta be helping me out at least somewhat” even though I was probably eating too much food elsewhere. When I did start keeping track of calories, I found that as long as I just replaced sugar with nutrasweet or Splenda, I lost weight.

    As far as diet sodas “not tasting like the real thing”, I actually took a taste test comparing sugar water to nutrasweet sweetened water with the same level of sweetness and I could not taste the difference at all. Maybe some people just can’t tell the difference between diet sweeteners and sugar. Although, I CAN tell the difference between saccharin and sugar and stevia and sugar. Splenda, sugar, and aspartame all taste almost the same to me. Weird, but true.

    Reply
  17. Jim

    These two studies only focused on Splenda (most diet sodas are sweetened with aspartame or other sweeteners). I’m not sure how much research has been done that is able to show EXACTLY how/if people were consuming more calories later down the track.

    Also – may I suggest that your clients were probably focused and mindful of what they were eating. Perhaps the average person who consumes diet sodas maybe takes no note of whether they are still going after more calories later on in the day…

    Reply
  18. Never teh Bride

    I drink Crystal Light and the occasional diet soda, and I’ve never found myself jonesin’ for sweets afterward. Not that personal experiences equal a trend or anything, but I feel like studies like this grasp at straws. The brain mechanisms may not be the same, but humans have the ability to reason. We’re not 100% guided by dopamine!

    Reply
  19. C-monkey

    My boyfriend was a HUGE diet soda drinker, but after reading up on the latest findings about it, he decided to cut them out.

    Let me preface his results by saying that he does want to lose weight, but hasn’t yet started any diet modifications other than switching out diet for regular.

    He replaced his diet soda with regular, full-sugar drinks. Mostly sweet green tea, 7-up, and vitamin waters (because that’s what I buy). And yes, he drinks just as many – if not more – regular drinks per day as he did the diet versions.

    He has been steadily losing weight – not drastically, but about a half a pound a week.

    Just thought I’d share!

    Reply
  20. figsandolives

    my concern with artifical sweeteners is not with the battle of the bulge, but their safety. i think with too much consumption, you may be raising your risk of cancer..

    that being said, i’ve been guilty recently of drinking crystal light

    Reply
  21. Rebecca

    I have to agree with the mice… artificial sweeteners just don’t taste as good! No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t make myself *like* drinking a diet soda. I’d rather have no soda at all, so I don’t usually drink soda.

    However, I also agree with pps that I don’t “replace” my nonexistent soda with another sugary beverage or snack (or Splenda-y beverage). It helps that I work out of my home & do the grocery shopping – if it’s not there, I can’t eat it!

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  22. MissNutrition

    I am trying to lose weight and I have acid reflux, so I pretty much avoid real sugar at all costs. Splenda is my best friend! 🙂 I know there are some studies out there that say that Splenda isn’t good for you, but there are also a lot that don’t think that. So, I’ll take my chances for now and go for the calorie-free version that does not bother my reflux!

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  23. Jason

    I have lost 55lbs in the last 6 months and confess to drinking about 4 cans of diet soda a day, and crystal light on top of that. Here’s the thing — I don’t let the calories saved in the diet soda allow me to trade in extra stuff that I don’t need. When I crave sugar, I eat fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate.

    Of course, I wonder about the possibility of artificial sweeteners having stuff that’s going to kill me eventually, but I don’t think that’s the debate of this post.

    I think like so many have said, if you’re willing to accept that there’s no “fast fix” way to eat junk — ie changing to diet soda so that you can eat a bag of chips a day — then there’s no issue.

    Reply
  24. Tom

    I agree that there is no magic solution. Weight-loss starts with watching food intake on all levels, not just sweets. Unfortunately, there is no one single “trick” that can guarantee weight-loss. Losing weight requires a lot of discipline especially when it comes to eating habits.

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  25. Bethama

    Nothing all that magic about that, though, is there?

    Reply
  26. missann

    I use diet sodas with splenda as a weight loss aid all the time.
    Replace snacks and food with a Diet Coke….you can still feel somewhat full. If I need to occupy my mouth with something….better it be a bag of trail mix or a coke? Um, the latter has a heck of alot less calories and fat…..

    Reply
  27. Barry

    The only magic bullet for weight loss is consuming fewer calories than you expend. Period, end of story.

    Reply
  28. Barry

    I shed about 20 pounds of pure fat and I enjoyed splenda every single day.

    Studies are one thing. Reality is often quite another.

    See my blog for more information and progress photos.

    Reply
  29. staci

    i believe that sugar substitution is all relative. for instance- i love sweets, i’ll eat them uncontrolably- i do give in to sugar cravings when its my day to give in, but i try not to EAT artificial sugar, i know i need real sugar somewhere in my diet. in my coffee, i use fake sugar- if i have a soda, which hyou should avoid anyway, i generally get diet- i just get so much sugar everywhere else, that its good to substitute it sometimes. i think it depends on the situation.

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  30. Bethama

    If you’re looking for a magic bullet, artificial sweeteners aren’t it. Mostly because a magic bullet doesn’t exist.

    I love sweet beverages, and honestly, I can’t make myself drink them slowly. If I can swill down a diet Pepsi without feeling like I wasted half of my daily caloric allotment, I’m going to do it. As usual, it comes down to a rounded approach.

    Upping your intake of fruits and vegetables won’t help you lose weight or improve your health if you follow them up with Big Macs and doughnuts. Further proof that you shouldn’t eat produce!

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  31. MizFit

    Im gonna skip the notrealsugar piece and focus on the ADDING IN EXTRA CALORIES facet of your post.

    I disagree.

    when I owned my training studio I never saw any of my clients/my trainer’s clients add in more calories because of those “saved” on diet sodas.

    adding in because of stress? cravings? unplanned meals out? sure—-but Ive seen this stated so many places yet never really seen happen.

    others? Im *confident* there are some “OH I SAW THIS ALL THE TIME” stories out there!

    MizFit

    Reply
  32. Mark

    Interesting but we all know that its eating to much food that makes us fat cravings are part and parcel of what we do or don’t eat.

    I drink diet soda only reason being the lower sugar content I do sometimes wonder about the vadility of some of these studies at times.

    I don’t think they paint a full picture as it where.

    Reply