We drink them in our coffee and tea: Artificial sweeteners are abundant both in break rooms at work and your kitchens at home.
Some people absolutely need them because of conditions like diabetes. But others choose them because they're calorie-free.
However, we've found some researchers say sugar substitutes might have a counter-productive effect on your diet.
"When you want something sweet and you taste something sweet, you want more sweet," said Lesley Shumard, a trainer at Tampa's Downtown YMCA. "I always thought no sugar was better, and that was the best alternative."
Lesley was not addicted to sugar, however, over the past 25 years, she developed a taste for sugar substitutes. This spring she underwent a diet makeover. She went vegan, and gave up artificial sweeteners and foods made with them.
A few months later, she felt better and lost 20 pounds.
"I can't say artificial sweeteners were the main reason why I lost weight," she continued. "It was a life-changing experience, but I 'm sure it played a huge role."
"They think they'll be taking away the calories from other foods they eat, or they replace those calories with more calories form other foods," explains Wanda Alverio, diabetes educator and dietitian at Florida Hospital Tampa. "One of the problems with artificial sweeteners is that they are way more sweet than sucrose."
The issue: This "no-cal solution" can lead to sensory confusion, since artificial sweeteners can be up to 600 times sweeter than sugar.
A study in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine finds the super sweet taste on our tongues sends only a partial chemical message to the reward centers of our brain. The partial message is because corresponding calories our bodies expect from the sugar are missing.
Researcher Qing Yang found we satisfy the void by eating more, fueling weight gain, and in the process, create a vicious cycle by training our brains to crave even more sweets.
The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association jointly issued statements this year, citing concerns that scientific evidence is inconclusive and limited. However, the groups state sugar free option can help limit calories, manage blood sugar, and satisfy a sweet tooth.
"We need to do more research on these sweeteners," insisted Alverio.
As for Lesley, instead of sugar substitutes, she uses real sugar, and subs in honey.
"I feel good," she added. "I feel more energetic, I don't get the afternoon crashes, I feel healthier. It's huge."
Lesley plans to go without, but remember any sweetener can be part of a healthy diet as long as you don't exceed your daily calories by adding more food as a reward for making that sugar sacrifice.
More details: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21245879