Saturday, 15 March 2008

New Study: Sugar Substitute Causes Weight Gain

Before you reach for that diet cola or sugar-free ice cream, you might want to consider a new study published by Purdue University on the effects of artificial sweeteners in yogurt. The research, which was reported this week by, suggests that sugar substitutes could actually lead to increased weight gain, contradicting the popularly-held notion that artificial sugar substitutes have a slimming effect.

In the Purdue study rats were fed a diet of yogurt sweetened with either saccharine or regular sugar. The results of the research showed that the rats eating the saccharine-sweetened yogurt ate more and gained more weight than those eating regular sugar-sweetened yogurt.

The sugar substitute business is a billion dollar industry, which is primarily driven by the desire of individuals to eat lighter and lose weight. And although the recent Purdue study tested artificial sweeteners on rats, not humans, researchers at other universities are already taking note of the results, and more research is underway to discover if the weight gain effect from sugar substitutes is transferable to humans.

According to the Purdue researchers, the problem with artificial sweeteners lies in their affect on metabolic regulation within the body. For example, when rats are fed a diet of sugar-sweetened yogurt, their body temperature rises significantly, and process more calorie rich nutrients.

On the other hand, when rats are fed a diet of artificially-sweetened yogurt, their average body temperature rose only marginally, causing them to eat significantly more and gain more weight than their sugar-fed counterparts. Although researchers are not entirely sure why this effect takes place, some experts theorize that the rats may be confused by the false sweetness of the yogurt, reducing their natural ability to burn calories.

This theory ties in with the results of other research studies on artificial sweeteners, including a meta study that found a significant correlation between drinking diet colas and “metabolic syndrome,” a collection of symptoms and risk factors that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, abdominal obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure.

More research will be necessary before scientists can say exactly how the sugar substitutes are affecting the metabolism, and why they appear to be leading to increased food intake and weight gain.

But with the consumption of saccharine and other sugar substitutes rising annually in both North America and Europe, the new research suggests that consumers should carefully consider their choices when purchasing soft drinks, yogurts and other snacks. The bottom line is, those “light” products containing sugar substitutes could actually be making us unhealthy — and fat.

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