Written by Sadie Wirthlin
If you are a soda drinker, you may have heard about the debate between diet and regular soda. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, which are said to provide sweetness without the extra calories. Some have claimed that these substitutes can even assist in weight loss and be a healthy alternative to real sugar.
On the other hand, some research claims that the “fake” sugar is not the healthier option and using real sugar in soda is the way to go. So which sugar is healthier, and which side contains the truth? A recent study reveals findings that might help in choosing sides.
Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have found that artificial sweeteners can affect the body’s metabolism and cause weight gain. These “fake” sugars end up mimicking a state of starvation within the brain that causes some people to eat more food.
This collaborated study was first performed with fruit flies, and then on mice. Fruit flies were fed a diet of either yeast and sucrose, or a diet with sucralose, a synthetic sweetener. Those that were given the sucralose consumed 30% more calories over a 5-day period than the flies who ate regular sucrose. Researchers also studied flies through a technique called the proboscis extension response (PER) assay—a test to determine a fly’s ingesting interest. Results showed that as flies ate synthetic sweeteners, their desire to consume regular sugar increased. When these tests were repeated on the mice, those that were given synthetic sweeteners also showed a food-consumption increase, but by 50%.
Lead author of the study Greg Neely stated that he and his colleagues were able to identify the cause of the hunger sensation that comes from artificial sweeteners: a neural network in the brain. When the brain detects sweetness with a lack of calories (like when you drink a diet soda), it increases the sweetness of sugar, thus driving the desire to eat more.
The evidence seems to be building up against artificial sweeteners and their negative effects on metabolism. In addition to these side effects, earlier studies have also found that “fake” sugars can alter gut microbe populations and weaken the ability to process real sugar. One thing to consider, however, is that a lot of this research has been done on animals, not on humans. More evidence needs to be gathered regarding the effects that artificial sweeteners have on humans, and as of now, doctors aren’t recommending to cut it out of diets.
Overall, be mindful of the amount of sugar you are consuming and be intuitive with your eating. Watch your eating patterns and listen to your body to help decide which type of sugar is right for you.
Source: How Artificial Sweeteners May Cause Us to Eat More. Bret Stetka. July 12, 2016. www.scientificamerican.com.