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The Not-So-Sweet Side of Sugar Substitutes February 18, 2008

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
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For people with a sweet tooth who are concerned about calories, artificial sweeteners have seemed to be the ideal answer. Now, however, it’s not looking all that sweet. A new study suggests that artificial sweeteners may actually cause weight gain. For those who have been chugging back diet drinks on a regular basis, the news could be super surprising and upsetting.

Confusing Information

For a lot of people, the news was perplexing. Why? Because there is the idea that by cutting back calories through artificial sweeteners, a person can more easily lose weight. It’s confusing to hear that the opposite may, in fact, be true. So, how does this work? The researchers who conducted the study think that when you experience a sweet taste in your mouth but don’t consume any calories after, it leaves your body craving more food. Scientists at Purdue University in the United States tested out their theory on rats. Their work was published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

Hello Rats!

Rat First, they gave yogurt to different groups of rats. One group got to chow down on yogurt sweetened with sugar while the other group got to slurp up some yogurt sweetened with saccharin – an artificial sweetener. The rats were given an abundant supply of food. This means that they weren’t in starvation mode, which could have swayed the results because it affects the body’s metabolism and how appetite is regulated. Next, the researchers checked out how each rat reacted to the yogurt.

The Results Are In

Saccharin Based Sweetener The rats who ate the saccharin sweetened yogurt not only ate more calories, but they put on more fat and gained more weight than their friends who ate the yogurt sweetened with sugar. But wait, there’s more! Later on, the rats that were fed the saccharin sweetened yogurt didn’t eat less in an attempt to regulate their weight. This means that the effects of consuming sweeteners could be quite long-lasting.

Getting Inside The Body

If you are like me when I first heard about this study, you might be wondering just what is going on in the human body to cause the rats to eat more. Well, the researchers have a theory about it all. They think one possible reason is that normally, a person who experiences a sweet taste from food gets a metabolism that is all primed and revved up for a high-calorie, sweet and heavy meal. Instead, the consumption of an artificial sweetener can leave the body very confused as it asks: Where is my meal? Without the arrival of food, the body then has difficulty regulating appetite later on when other food is around.

Still, there are some studies showing that artificial sweeteners can help people lose weight. We definitely will need to see more research on this one. For now, I still say that a treat here and there with real sugar is delicious and works nicely in a healthy diet that incorporates a lot of different, nutritious and yummy foods. On that note, I think those little rats have had enough yogurt for now. I’m off to have a bowl of yogurt and fruit!

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1. David Bradley - February 21, 2008

The “news” that artificially sweetened drinks could cause weight gain…it didn’t come from the UK’s “Sugar Bureau” did it? That organization is notorious for sending out sucrose propaganda. Meanwhile, didn’t researchers also just discover that drinking lots of sweet soda can raise a man’s risk of contracting gout?


2. Miss Weird Scientist - February 21, 2008

True enough regarding the Sugar Bureau’s tactics and such, but the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal and it was researched at Purdue University. The experiment was funded by the National Institutes of Health although I suppose it is still possible that the Sugar Bureau exerted influence in some way. It’s also virtually a given that the Sugar Bureau will use the study findings to their advantage.

Yes, the gout study is an interesting one although it’s hardly a new idea that a lower-sugar diet can help to prevent gout. This study takes it up a step (or few!).

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