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Offering the taste of sweetness without adding any calories sounds like a sweet deal. But sugar substitutes aren’t the magic bullet for weight loss.

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have given a cautious nod to the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, which are all risk factors for heart disease. But some research links the use of artificial sweeteners to increased weight.

All artificial sweeteners are not created equal

Some artificial sweeteners are derived from natural substances, like herbs and sugar, but they can also be synthetically produced. The FDA has approved five artificial and low-calorie sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, stevia and sucralose.

An average 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 150 calories, almost all of them from sugar. The same exact amount of diet soda has zero calories. The choice should seem like a no-brainer, but there are some concerns over sugar substitutes and how they affect your weight.

One concern is that people who use artificial sweeteners may replace the lost calories through other sources of food. For example, you might think: “I’m drinking diet soda, so I can have another slice of pizza.” This only offsets weight loss and health benefits.

Another possibility is that these products can change the way we taste food.  Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than actual sugar. As a result, we crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food and gain weight as a result.


Studies of sugar substitutes have concluded they do not pose a cancer risk, leading to their approval by the FDA. However, as only small quantities were tested over short periods of time, more studies are needed to better understand the long-term effects and if larger amounts make a difference.

Is one better than the other?

Foods that naturally contain sugar, such as whole fruit, tend to be highly nutritious. While sugar-free foods might have no calories from the sweetener, it does not necessarily mean they are calorie-free. If you are only looking at sugar content, you may be fooled into thinking foods are healthier options than they really are.

So whether you reach for an artificial sweetener next time or the pure sugar packet, one is not necessarily better than the other. Be savvy about what you eat and, as with all things, moderation is key.

Please join us November 5, 2016 as we celebrate the UCF College of Medicine’s 10th Anniversary with a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. This landmark event will feature stations of world-class cuisine from Orlando’s top chefs and restaurants, as well as live entertainment from UCF’s talented students. Guests will commemorate the college’s past, celebrate its present and get a glimpse for its future. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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