A recent sugar industry funded study set out to explore that possibility.
The REFORM study looked at the impact of an 8 week crossover swap of ultra-processed sugary foods with ultra-processed artificially sweetened foods on 16 active young men and 34 active young women whose average BMI was 23.5 and whose average daily step count was 9,064. For 8 weeks they'd consume either sugary stuff or artificially sweetened stuff with a 4 week washout period in between and they were blinded to which treatment they were in.
The researchers were looking at a number of different variables including of course sugar consumption, but also body weight, energy intake, energy expenditure, blood pressure, arterial wall stiffness, fasting sugars and lipid levels.
At baseline the researchers report that the average daily energy intake of participants was a mere 1,900 or so calories, dramatically less than their reported predicted baseline energy intakes of 2,400 calories per day. They also reported that though blinded to whether the products they were consuming were sweetened with or without sugar, 83% of participants correctly identified which was which.
Though the researchers reported a decrease in the consumption of sugar consequent to the intervention, what they did not see was a change in body weight which in turn led the researchers to conclude that subjects compensated for the lesser calories found in artificially sweetened processed foods by eating more. They also didn't see any other changes in the other measured outcomes.
I'm neither excited nor disappointed by this study's findings as I just don't think any conclusions from it can be drawn. The small number of subjects in this very short study were young, active, and thin, their ability to accurately report their dietary intake was clearly inadequate, and the study, though blinded, wasn't well blinded given the vast majority of subjects were able to correctly identify which treatment arm was which.
I'm blogging about it today not so much because I think it's important as a study, but rather because I saw a bunch of folks I respect tweeting about it as if it provided new and valuable insights - an opinion I don't share.