True or false?
- If a diet soda takes the place of a regular one, calories are cut out of the diet.
- By replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener like saccharin, aspartame, or sucralose, our blood sugars levels should benefit.
These bits of accepted wisdom are surprisingly false.
While people often choose these products to lose weight and steady blood sugars, artificial sweeteners may do the opposite.
Consider that the rise in obesity and diabetes parallels the widespread use of artificial sweeteners which provide sweetness without the calories. Surely the massive usage followed the diseases? Or did artificial sweeteners contribute to the dual epidemics?
In 2010, Qing Yang at Yale University found that several large-scale studies showed weight gain with artificial sweetener use.
One reason may be that feeling virtuous with a diet food or beverage, dieters reward themselves with more calories in other foods. In a controlled setting, knowingly ingesting aspartame was linked with higher overall energy intake, suggesting overcompensation.
Another suspicion was presented: Natural and artificial sweeteners activate both reward pathways and taste receptors in different ways.
“Sweetness decoupled from caloric content offers partial, but not complete, activation of the food reward pathways. Activation of the hedonic component may contribute to increased appetite. Animals seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy need. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the postingestive component, further fuels the food seeking behavior,” writes Yang.
Therefore fake sugars do nothing for the satiety centers. Meanwhile, the nonnutritive sweetener keeps the taste buds on high alert for more sweet flavors, perhaps candy or cake next time. And because we prefer flavors we repeatedly taste, artificial sweeteners may lead to sugar craving and sugar dependence.
And now, there is a newly published work in September 17 issue of Nature pointing to a connection between artificial sweeteners and diabetes. Microbes are implicated.
In research from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot in Israel, artificial sweeteners were found to induce glucose intolerance—a harbinger of diabetes– in mice. The scientists suspected microbes may be contributing so they then gave the mice antibiotics. The glucose intolerance disappeared.
Then another trial was started with just saccharin. Microbes from mice that had been drinking saccharin in water were transplanted into mice which had not been exposed to the artificial sweetener. Sure enough, the mice began showing signs of glucose intolerance.
Disturbing news, given the levels of usage of these sweeteners globally.
And once again we see the microbial population in the middle of the fray.