Twenty years ago, the health trend was fat-free food. Then as people learnt about the benefits of fat and the difference between good fats & bad fats, the focus moved away from avoiding fats to avoiding sugar. The sugar-free movement increased the use & popularity of artificial sweeteners to replace sugar. Now the latest research has Sydney experts suggesting that these sweeteners could actually be causing you to eat more and therefore put on weight.
University of Sydney – artificial sweeteners research 2016
In an attempt to discover why previous studies had found those who ate artificial sweeteners put on more weight than those who did not, the University of Sydney Charles Perkins Centre performed a study over 5 days on two groups of fruit flies. Both were given healthy food, but one group had artificial sweetener added. The group that ate the sweetener ate one third more food. Researchers found the brain sensed both sweetness and lower energy intake and adapted appetite (ie. increased it) in response. They found the reward centre of the animal’s brain associates sweet foods with higher energy intake but then when it doesn’t receive the higher calorie intake the brain thinks it is starving and seeks to eat more calories. The study also found the sweetener caused hyperactivity, insomnia and reduced sleep quality, replicating a fasting state.
Which artificial sweetener was used in the testing?
The research used Sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, although researchers said their findings were likely to apply to most artificial sweeteners.
Does this research translate to humans?
There is no research to confirm this yet, Associate Professor Greg Neely said although the animal results do not necessarily translate to humans, the good news is they “found it was reversible, when animals stop taking artificial sweeteners for three days their responses go back to normal.”
Should we eat food with artificial sweeteners?
I am not an expert in the area, however it appears there is not enough evidence to say that artificial sweeteners have no negative effect on you – in fact studies like this, suggest otherwise. My advice would be not to avoid sugar all together and replace it with sweeteners, but rather focus on eating and enjoying natural sugars that are found in fruit. We know these are much easier than refined sugars for the body to process. Fruit is also packed with health benefiting vitamins, minerals fibre, polyphenols & antioxidants.
Of course a sustainable healthy diet needs treats every now and again so having treats with refined sugar or choosing healthier dessert recipes like this apple cake that has small amounts of artificial sweetener (although this one uses Stevia which is a plant based sweetener & likely better for you), isn’t going to kill you, or ‘ruin your diet’ forever. Moderation is key, but natural sugars via fresh produce is always best!
Have you ever noticed an increase in appetite whilst eating food with artificial sweeteners?