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Low calorie foods and beverages help people to control their weight. The International Sweeteners Association responds to allegations by Sharon Fowler et al.

2009-07-10 18:40:55

The paper by Fowler et al published in Obesity shows that, as would be expected, people who chose diet soft drinks and used low calorie sweeteners in coffee and tea consumed significantly fewer calories than those who chose the same products with sugar. That finding is in line with the substantial body of science that demonstrates that foods and drinks with low calorie sweeteners help people to control their weight.

The allegation made in the paper that low calorie sweeteners are somehow unhelpful in weight control does not bear scrutiny. It should not be surprising to anyone that low calorie beverages are chosen by people who are heavier than average. Stellmann and Garfinkel first used this epidemiological observation in a paper published in 1986 to question the role of low calorie sweeteners. Since then, a series of carefully designed studies that confirm the benefits of low calorie sweeteners in weight loss programmes have been conducted. These include:

  • A study by Astrup et al published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2002. This study showed that overweight subjects who supplemented their diet with sugar containing foods and beverages for a ten week period gained weight, while those who supplemented their diet with foods and beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners did not.
  • A study by Ludwig et al published in The Lancet in 2001. This study showed that increased consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks by schoolchildren was linked to an increase in body mass index. Equally, the study showed that the more low calorie soft drinks were consumed, the less likely the children were to be obese.
  • A study by Fantino et al published in Appetite in 1998. This study showed that participants who drank a sugar-sweetened beverage consumed as many calories at a subsequent meal as those who drank an aspartame-sweetened beverage. The participants who consumed the aspartame-sweetened beverage therefore consumed substantially fewer calories.
  • A study by Blackburn et al published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1997. This study showed that when aspartame was used as part of a 19 week weight control program, the sweetener helped participants to reduce their weight. Two years after the start of the study, aspartame users retained more of their weight loss than non-aspartame users.
  • A study by Tordoff and Alleva published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1990. This study showed that normal weight subjects lost weight when they drank one serving of aspartame-sweetened cola every day for a period of 3 weeks.

The paper by Fowler et al is based on data that are between 20 and 29 years old. Why it should have been published at this time is unclear. The paper does not disclose the funding for the work. It is also unclear why the authors should make selective reference to discredited allegations about low calorie sweeteners, some of which are unrelated to their hypothesis.

The International Sweeteners Association believes that unsettling people about choices that help them control their weight is particularly irresponsible given the serious consequences of overweight and obesity.

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