Trying to lose weight by sticking to diet soda or low-sugar desserts? You may need to rethink your game plan. A new study confirms that choosing artificial sweeteners doesn’t really help when it comes to slimming down or maintaining your health.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba’s George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation reviewed 37 studies, conducted for a decade or more, of over 400,000 people. All of the studies selected found that artificial or nonnutritive (zero calorie) sweeteners had negative impacts on the metabolism, gut bacteria, and appetite of the subjects. In addition, using these sweeteners over an extended period of time was linked to increased risk of weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues.

We’re pretty sure that this is NOT the effect most people are going for when they choose a sugar-free substitute. Most consumers have been lead to believe that choosing zero or no-calorie sweeteners was a good way to help them take off a few pounds. They may also believe artificial sweeteners are a healthier choice. This isn’t really the case.

Researchers theorize that a contributing factor to the increased risk of weight gain may be the low-calorie sweeteners’ ability to cause cravings for other sweet things, leading to eating more higher-calorie foods. It also creates the illusion for consumers that they have “saved“ calories so they’re entitled to a “treat”.

What about natural low-calorie sweeteners like stevia? Are they any better for dieters than chemical artificial sweeteners? Doctors say there isn’t enough information available yet to know for sure. Stevia is a relatively new product, so the expectation is there will be more research on it in the future.

Your best bet health-wise is probably to cut back on all things sweet, both sugar and sugar substitutes.