Sugar-sweetened foods and drinks tend to contain a lot of calories, whereas artificially sweetened ones tend to contain few or zero calories. Therefore, artificially sweetened fare should help you lose weight, right?

Research on this matter cuts both ways. 

Some studies have shown that artificially sweetened foods and drinks can enhance weight loss, and others have found that folks who consume more of these foods and drinks are more likely to be obese than those who don’t.

And so, to help unravel this mystery, researchers at Marista University of Mérida conducted a meta-analysis of 20 studies that involved a total of 2,914 participants. They found that, on average, people who consumed artificially-sweetened foods and drinks lost more weight and saw a greater decrease in body mass index than people who didn’t.

Moreover, the reason for the additional weight loss is instructive. In and of themselves, artificial sweeteners have basically no impact on body weight—they aren’t “fat loss supplements,” after all—but when they’re used to replace caloric sweeteners like sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup, “calories in” goes down, and weight loss goes up.

If you have a stubborn sweet tooth, choosing artificial sugar substitutes over sugar can help you better control your calories and achieve your body composition goals. That said, I’d recommend against wanton consumption of artificial sweeteners for two reasons: 

  1. While the negative health effects are often exaggerated, there are scientifically warranted concerns about what impact they might have long-term (particularly in our gut).
  2. While it would be a stretch (and scientifically inaccurate) to say that artificial sweeteners strengthen the urges to eat sweets, some people do fall into the habit of overusing them (especially when dieting) and struggle to wean themselves and return to normal eating.

For those reasons, I much prefer natural non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and allulose.

(If you’d like even more specific advice about which foods you should eat to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Diet Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what diet is right for you. Click here to check it out.)