Artificial sweeteners really ARE bad for you: They make you crave real sugar even more

1373481356000-GAN-DIET-SODA-STUDY-071013-1307101436_3_4[1]Millions rely on them to help stay thin but artificial sweeteners may actually make us eat more.

Research has linked the popular sugar alternatives to increased appetite – with real sugar particularly appealing.

The studies were done on animals but the Australian researchers believe the findings are likely to apply to people too – and they said water is the healthiest drink.

The warning comes at a time when the health risks of sugar are under spotlight, meaning more people are likely to be switching to artificial versions, including diet fizzy drinks.

In experiments, fruit flies given food laced with a low-calorie sweetener ate 30 per cent more food than others.

Plus, their taste buds reacted more strongly than usual to real sugar.

Further experiments showed the problem to lie in their brains as they expected sweet-tasting food to be high in calories.

When the artificial sweetener didn’t provide the expected energy boost, the body told the brain more food was needed.

Lead researcher Greg Neely, from the University of Sydney, said: ‘After chronic exposure to a diet that contained the artificial sweetener, we saw that animals began eating a lot more.

‘Through systematic investigation of this effect, we found that inside the brain, sweet sensation is integrated with energy content.

‘When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases total calories consumed.

‘When we investigated why animals were eating more even though they had enough calories, we found that chronic consumption of this artificial sweetener actually increases the sweet intensity of real nutritive sugar, and this then increases the animal’s overall motivation to eat more food.

‘The pathway we discovered is part of a conserved starvation response that actually makes nutritious food taste better when you are starving.’

The sweetener also triggered hyperactivity and sleep problems in the flies, the journal Cell Metabolism reports.

Further experiments, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, also in Sydney, showed mice also ate more after being given a low-calorie sweetener.

Garvan researcher Professor Herbert Herzog said the genes involved in the phenomenon are very similar in flies, mice and humans and so it is likely people also perceive sugar as being sweeter after consuming artificial sweeteners and so eat more as a result.

He added: ‘These findings further reinforce the idea that “sugar-free” varieties of processed food and drink may not be as inert as we anticipated.

‘Artificial sweeteners can actually change how animals perceive the sweetness of their food, with a discrepancy between sweetness and energy levels prompting an increase in caloric consumption.

‘Water is always better than any sugar, natural or artificial.’

Paul McArdle, of the British Dietetic Association, said that diet drinks do help people reduce their calorie and sugar intake.

However, the evidence on whether they help in weight control is inconclusive.

He added: ‘In an ideal world, we would drink water and maybe some milk and a small amount of fruit juice.

A spokesman for the International Sweeteners Association, which represents manufacturers, said: ‘There is a broad body of scientific evidence from human studies which clearly demonstrates that low calorie sweeteners are not associated with an increase in appetite and do not have an impact on energy or food intake.’

Source:  Fiona Macrae

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