|Usually they are touted as the reason for weight gain: Sugar-containing soft drinks like the Scottish brew Irn Bru. In the study at hand, however, they helped 41 obese women lose weight - how come?|
As I already mentioned, this is not the first study Reid and her colleagues from the Hull, Ulster and Herriot-Watt Universities in the UK conducted, but it is the first one where the subjects, obese women, with previous diet experience, came right from the subgroup of the population of whom we simply assume that their weight problems would (partly) result from these "empty calories".
Would the women "recognize" the 168kcal of pure sugar in their diets?
After exclusion and dropouts, Marie Reid et al. were left with a total of 41 healthy obese (BMI 30– 35 kg/m²) 20-50 year-old women who were randomly assigned to consume sucrose (n=20) or aspartame (n=21) drinks over 4 weeks in a parallel single-blind design.
Based on the previously mentioned experiments with normal- and overweight women, the researchers knew women with higher body weights had a harder time to compensate for the 168kcal the sugar-sweetened drinks delivered than their lean peers. It was thus interesting to see, whether the obese women (1) would compensate for the additional energy intake and (2) whether the compensation would be less pronounced than in the lean and overweight participants of the previous studies.
learn more about the debate the role of Pepsi, Coke & Co in the diabesity epidemic).Instead of simply having their subjects fill dietary records, the scientists used the weight response to judge, whether or not the women fully or partly compensated for the additional energy intake from the sugar sweetened beverages (note: the beverages contained regular sugar, no HFCS). Reid et al. did yet also analyze the changes in macronutrient composition to elucidate, whether the expected reduction in regular (food) energy intake would go at the expense of any particular macronutrient, i.e. carbs, proteins or fats.
|Figure 1: Macronutrient and energy intake of the sugar (left) and aspartame (right) group (Reid. 2013)|
- 10.5g of sucrose, but no aspartame in the regular and (sugar)
- 0g of sucrose and a miniscule amount of aspartame in the diet variety (aspartame)
Sugar doesn't make you fat and artificial sweeteners seem to hamper weight loss!?
I guess (or hope) that you will not really have expected to see those 672 extra grams of fat on the hips of Reid's, subjects at the end of the study. Still, most of you will probably have expected that the ladies did gain weight, right? Much to my own surprise, this was not the case: In fact, the vast majority of the ladies missed the predicted weight gain by more than 1kg (1.72 (SD 0.47) kg).
|It's not like the lean or overweight women did not gain any weight at all.|
A brief glance at the total energy intake in Figure 1 appears to confirm that: The women in the aspartame group did also reduce their energy intake. Due to significant differences among the study participants this did however not lead to a net change in body weight. From a statistical perspective, this means that the body weight of "Mrs. Average" did not change - neither in response to the sugar- nor in the aspartame sweetened drinks.
- Reid M, Hammersley R, Hill AJ, Skidmore P. Long-term dietary compensation for added sugar: effects of supplementary sucrose drinks over a 4-week period. Br J Nutr. 2007 Jan;97(1):193-203.
- Reid M, Hammersley R, Duffy M. Effects of sucrose drinks on macronutrient intake, body weight, and mood state in overweight women over 4 weeks. Appetite. 2010 Aug;55(1):130-6.
- Reid M, Hammersley R, Duffy M, Ballantyne C. Effects on obese women of the sugar sucrose added to the diet over 28 d: a quasi-randomised, single-blind, controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2013 Oct 29:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]