Guest article by Sam Hadadi,
Within the last few years, artificial sweeteners have fallen from grace. Once seen as the diet world’s best friend, they’ve now become public enemy number one as more and more evidence links them to the ever-growing obesity crisis.
In fact, adding to the mounting pile of evidence, a new study carried out on fruit flies and mice suggests that those zero-calorie sweeteners may actually send our appetite levels soaring.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then you might just want to read on…
In the new study, carried out by the University of Sydney in Australia, researchers fed fruit flies one of two diets. They were either given food sweetened with sugar, or food sweetened with sucralose, an artificial sweetener found in Splenda and many processed foods, including ketchup. After five days had passed, each one of the flies was fed the sugar only diet.
The findings were actually quite astonishing. In fact, the flies that had been fed the sucralose diet needed around a third more calories (30 per cent, to be precise) than those who ate sugar from the start.
Sugar to sweeten
Yet, why was this? What was happening inside the fruit fly’s brain to trigger this need for more calories?
Here’s where things get a little more complicated. Using molecular genetic science, the researchers started looking at what was going on inside the fruit fly’s head, or in their brains.
What they discovered will come as no surprise to those who have sworn off artificial sweeteners - the sucralose seemed to trigger a “fasting response”. This meant that the flies ate fewer calories when they were fed the sucralose, since their brains didn’t realise that they weren’t eating enough.
While this may sound great, it doesn’t end there. Instead, the brains had to compensate for the lack of food, which caused the flies to eat more food. You see, the researchers believe that, after the fasting response, the "sweet taste neurons" in the flies' brains made sweet foods seem even sweeter. In fact, the fasting response increased the sweetness intensity of natural sugar by a massive 50 percent.
To put it another way, long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners could make real sugar seem ever sweeter and ever more tempting.
The evidence doesn’t end there, though, and the researchers also carried out a similar experiment on mice. The results were similar and the mice which were fed sucralose-sweetened jellies ate more than those who didn’t.
Interestingly, though, mice who have been genetically modified to not have the neuropeptide Y (which plays a role in the fasting response) saw no effect from the sucralose – they were immune to the seemingly appetite-boosting role of the artificial sweeteners.
Well, according to this research, sucralose seems to increase food intake. With growing evidence that suggest artificial sweeteners are bad for our waistlines and our health1, you might want to give those zero calorie sweeteners a miss…
Of course, we must also remember that this research was only carried out on animals. Further research is needed to be sure that the findings applies to us, too, as well as other artificial sweeteners.
If this has given you a little food for thought, then avoiding artificial sweeteners at all costs may well be on the menu. Whether you’re looking to eat healthily or simply want to make some wiser choices, then here are some of those artificial sweeteners you may want to avoid:
If avoiding sugars is important to you, you may also want to consider eliminating:
Sugar alcohols, which include:
Novel sweeteners, which are combinations of various types of sweeteners and include:
Sugars - dates, stevia and honey
Natural sugars, such as:
You might also want to read up on our handy guide to sugar alternatives, which will give you the Lucy Bee lowdown on all the pros, cons and associated health risks.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.