When you’re craving a fizzy drink but trying to be healthy, reaching for diet versions containing artificial sweeteners, instead of sugar, can seem like the safest bet.
But a new large-scale review has found there is “no compelling evidence” that artificial sweeteners are better for health than their sugary counterparts. In fact, due to the lack of reliable research in this area, the study, published in the BMJ, says potential harms of artificial sweeteners “cannot be ruled out”.
Although several artificial sweeteners are approved for use in food and drink, evidence around their potential harms and benefits is limited, the researchers said.
To better understand the impact of consuming artificial sweeteners, the review analysed 56 studies comparing health impacts of children and adults with either no intake, low intake or high intake of sweeteners in their diet.
Measures included weight, blood sugar control, oral health, cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, mood and behaviour. Studies were assessed for bias and certainty of evidence.
Overall, there seemed to be “no statistically or clinically relevant differences” between those exposed to artificial sweeteners and those not exposed, or between different doses, the researchers said.
They specified “no good evidence of any effect of non-sugar sweeteners was found for overweight or obese adults or children actively trying to lose weight”.
And conversely, some studies suggested children actually increased in body mass index if they consumed sweeteners, instead of sugar.
However, the researchers stressed that the quality of evidence in many of the studies was low, so confidence in the results is limited and more research is needed.
Until we know more, your best bet could be to cut down on all fizzy drinks, both regular and diet. NHS dentist Claire Stevens previously told HuffPost UK even low or no sugar fizzy drinks can damage teeth because they contain carbonic acid, which is erosive.
“Drinking cold and through a straw will minimise erosive damage,” she said.