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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Switching from regular sugar to artificial sweetener can help with weight loss and diabetes, according to a new statement released today from the American Heart Association.

Colby Lemaster starts his day with an iced coffee, a splash of cream and a couple packets of Splenda.

“It will taste the same. It will be just as flavorful and yet a fraction of the calories, so why not do it?” said Colby.

The American Heart Association says substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar that’s added to food and drinks may help people reach a healthy weight and maintain it. It can also help diabetics control their blood sugar.

“It can be a way of cutting calories. For every can of diet soda somebody consumes, they save 150 calories,” explained Dr. Judith Wylie-Rosett, an endocrinologist.

But the Heart Association acknowledges the jury is still out on whether sweeteners are an effective long term way to keep calories and sugars in check.

“Somebody thinks, ‘Well, I can have that piece of cream pie because I put artificial sweetener in my coffee,’” said Dr. Wylie-Rosett.

Colby says artificial sweeteners have really helped him cut his calories.

“Every single day, I have sweetener in my coffee, and probably once a week, I’m making something or baking something with artificial sweetener,” said Colby. He’s also cut down on carbohydrates and butter, and he’s getting more exercise–lifestyle changes that have helped him drop 114 pounds.

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 100 calories a day of added sugars. For men, it’s 150 calories.

The new statement did not evaluate the safety of artificial sweeteners, but the FDA says approved sweeteners are safe.

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