Artificial Sweeteners Can Make You Fat
by John Barron at The Baseline of Health Foundation
If you think you're on your way to a new, svelte look because you drink diet soda, you might want to reconsider. A study out of the Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University, published in the February 2008 issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, proves what many of us in the alternative health community have been saying for years, that artificial sweeteners may throw off your body's natural calorie-counting response, leaving you more likely to overindulge in other foods. In experiments on rats, the researchers found that those fed yogurt sweetened with sugar substitutes, "consumed more calories, put on more weight, gained more body fat, and did not cut back on their calorie consumption in the longer term," when compared to rats eating yogurt sweetened with regular sugar.
Study co-author Susan Swithers points out that preliminary studies on humans have already shown a similar effect. In a 2005 survey by the University of Texas Health Science Center, those people who drink diet soft drinks actually gain weight. The study found that "for every can of diet soda people consumed each day, there was a 41% increased risk of being overweight." Swithers anticipates that, as with rats, sugar substitutes not only fail to promote weight loss; they actually lead to weight gain.
How can taking in no-calorie foods make you fat? As it turns out, quite simply.
The body regulates the hunger response based on caloric satisfaction -- when it senses you've had enough calories it gives you a signal to stop eating. Your metabolic system "naturally" registers sweet foods as calorie-rich, but when you drink diet sodas and eat artificially sweetened foods with low-caloric value, that "natural response" gets thrown off. Your brain no longer knows when to give you the "stop" signal, since sweet no longer equals calorie-rich. So after you finish the artificially sweetened food, you continue to eat and end up stuffing you face more than you would have if you had stuck to plain sugar. This phenomenon makes researchers suspect that the widespread consumption of artificial sweeteners may be tied to the sharp increase in obesity rates.
These findings add one more reason to avoid sugar substitutes, and yet, many people I know ignore the research documenting the nasty side effects because they've fixated on weight loss and think the little colored packets offer a solution. It seems that with this new data, there's just no remaining excuse for choosing aspartame, sucralose, or any of the other "devils in disguise." But in case you're still tempted -- if you still think that just maybe you'll skinny up choosing artificial sweeteners in spite of the new evidence, remember:
Look, I'm certainly not advocating that you dump Splenda and start consuming sugar with abandon. Sugar has its own problems, but at least it doesn't shut off your hunger control mechanism and accelerate your weight gain.
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