Artificial Sweeteners and Our Appetite

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Posted: 23/08/2016 Print

Artificial Sweeteners and Our Appetite

Guest article by Sam Hadadi,

Can Artificial Sweeteners Increase Our Appetite?

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…

The Study

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 sweetenSugar 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.

What Does It Mean For Me?

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.

Ingredients to Avoid:

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:

  • Acesulfame potassium is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar and has been linked to causing tumours in mice2.
  • Aspartame is widely thought to be the worst offender on the zero calorie list because it can be absorbed by our body. It has been linked to causing weight gain in pregnant women, increase hunger levels and weight gain and affect our gut health. Further studies have even suggested it could be toxic to the body, triggering depression, headaches and more3.
  • Neotame is a shocking 13,000 times sweeter than actual sugar and has been linked to seizures, tumours and blindness4.
  • Saccharin is the first ever artificial sweetener and has also linked to causing cancer in rats5, as well as diabetes1.
  • Sucralose, as you now know, can make us even hungrier. It has also been found to reduce our amount of good bacteria and lead to weight gain6.
  • Advantame is the newest kid on the block but is derived from aspartame. Some rat studies have even linked it to early death, as well as lowered immune system function and gastro-intestinal disturbances7.

If avoiding sugars is important to you, you may also want to consider eliminating:

Sugar alcohols, which include:

  • Erythritol
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Novel sweeteners, which are combinations of various types of sweeteners and include:

Sugars - dates, stevia and honeySugars - dates, stevia and honey

  • Stevia extracts
  • Tagatose (Naturlose)
  • Trehalose

Natural sugars, such as:

  • Agave
  • Date sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses

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.

Sam Hadadi Signature

About Lucy Bee Limited

Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.

The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.

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About Sam

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.

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