There’s no shortage of options for those who want to avoid sugar, including a whole range of artificial sweeteners. While people opt to skip the sugar for countless health reasons, for many, ditching those extra calories might be the main reason they reach for the Splenda or Sweet ‘N Low.
Turns out, it might not be that simple. A new report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that not only did using artificial sweeteners not help people lose weight, it actually seemed to have the opposite effect. And this wasn’t just one study. The report analyzed 37 studies on artificial sweeteners, which followed more than 400,000 people across 10 years.
Observational studies found that people who drank one or more artificially sweetened beverages each day had a higher risk for weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. It is not yet clear, though, if the artificial sweeteners themselves actually cause any harm.
“I think there’s an assumption that when there are zero calories, there is zero harm,” study author Meghan Azad, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba in Canada told Time. “This research has made me appreciate that there’s more to it than calories alone.”
For now, we just know that there’s a connection between eating and drinking habits of those who tend to use artificial sweeteners and long-term weight gain, including eating more processed foods in general. What we need now is a large, long-term study that looks at the effects of using artificial sweeteners over an even longer period of time.
For now, as with everything else, it’s best to enjoy artificial sweeteners in moderation.