Many people on a weight loss mission generally tend to shift to artificially sweetened, low-calorie food and beverages to curb their sugar intake. A new study, however, suggests that these types of food may actually make them fat.
If there is a mismatch between the actual calories and perceived sweetness, the brain could become confused and metabolize less, which could increase the risk for diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
“The assumption that more calories trigger greater metabolic and brain response is wrong. Calories are only half of the equation; sweet taste perception is the other half,” Yale University School of Medicine professor of psychiatry and senior author Dana Small explained.
What the study basically suggests is that the brain seems to determine how much calories to metabolize depending on how sweet the food consumed is, and then send weaker or stronger signals to the body to process them.
In order to determine whether actual calorie intake and sweetness perception are linked to the body’s metabolic activity, the researchers scanned the brains of 15 people when they drank regular and diet soda, as well as the amount of energy the participants burned.
What the team found was that low-calorie beverages with a sweeter taste trigger a better metabolic response than low- or high-calorie drinks that are not as sweet. According to them, these findings establish the link between artificial sweeteners and diabetes in previous studies.
“Our bodies evolved to efficiently use the energy sources available in nature. Our modern food environment is characterized by energy sources our bodies have never seen before,” Professor Small said.
Not everyone is convinced with the results of the study, however, and experts are split between those who support the claim and those who believe it is too early to consider the findings as conclusive evidence.
“What the paper does imply, correctly in my view, is that mismatches between calories and sweetness interfere with metabolism of calories,” Cardiff University professor of psychology Dominic Dwyer commented.
Professor Dwyer added that the mismatch may have a negative impact on weight and metabolism, but the link between unprocessed calories and metabolic diseases and health needs further study.
Glasgow University professor of metabolic medicine Naveed Sattar, on the other hand, says that the presented findings against diet drinks are still not sufficient proof that it is bad for the body, but that the evidence against regular sugar-laced drinks is strong. Professor Sattar suggests drinking water instead.
King’s College London professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics Tom Sanders, however, completely disagrees with the results of the study and called it “gobbledegook.” He also noted that the study needs observational evidence on long-term artificial sweetener consumers and that some studies show evidence of weight loss from diet soda.
“Integration of Sweet Taste and Metabolism Determines Carbohydrate Reward” has been published in the journal Current Biology.