While our consumption of added sugars has skyrocketed, there has been a concurrent proliferation of non-caloric sweeteners. We have blue packets, yellow packets, pink packets and a variety of other products in this category.Once reserved for sweetening coffee, these compounds are now widespread in our food supply; over the last decade, food companies have added non-caloric sweeteners to more than 6000 new food products. There are two key questions concerning these sweeteners: Are they safe? And, do they help you lose weight?

READ MORE: Sweeteners Guide

Artificial Sweeteners Are Safe: The safety question is easy. Although there were early concerns of cancer risks, particularly, with saccharine, these sweeteners do not cause cancer and have not been linked to other illnesses.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight: The question about weight loss is a little tougher. When used alone—rather than as part of a comprehensive weight loss plan that includes caloric restriction and exercise—these sweeteners do not cause weight loss and are even associated with weight gain in many studies.

RESEARCH: Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain

Yale University biologist Qing Yang notes that one reason for this paradox is that sweet tastes, whether from sugar or artificial sweeteners, tend to increase appetite. In addition, neurologists believe that the coupling of sweet taste with no calories “confuses” satiety centers in the brain and stimulates overeating.On the other hand, whether your goal is weight loss or weight maintenance, you need to watch your calories. It makes sense to include artificial sweeteners as one component of your weight management plan. That plan should also include a Mediterranean style diet and daily exercise.The take-home message—if you crave sweet tastes, use artificial sweeteners rather than sugar. But take charge of the rest of your diet as well in order to achieve and maintain an ideal body weight.

READ MORE: What’s Causing Your Sugar Cravings