Using artificial sweeteners may throw off our ability to monitor how many calories we consume, new animal research suggests.
Rats that had been fed an artificially sweetened diet tended to overeat when given naturally sweetened high-calorie food compared with rats that had never consumed artificial sweeteners. Researchers also found that the thickness of a sweetened drink seems to interfere with rats' abilities to keep their calorie consumption under control.
The results are preliminary, but they raise the possibility that artificially sweetened foods and high-calorie beverages may interfere with the ability to keep calorie consumption under control.
The researchers suggest that humans and other animals use sweetness and viscosity to help estimate the caloric content of the foods they eat, with sweeter and thicker foods signaling more calories and less sweet and thinner foods signaling fewer calories.
They hypothesized that consuming foods and beverages that are either low-calorie but very sweet or high-calorie but very thin may interfere with the ability to rely on taste and thickness to regulate caloric intake.
One way that people and other animals are thought to control their weight is by reducing the amount of food they eat on some occasions to compensate for over indulging at other times.
The researchers conducted two rat studies to evaluate the impact of artificial sweeteners and high-calorie drinks on calorie consumption.
In the first, one group of rats was fed a naturally sweetened liquid while another group was given an artificially sweetened liquid. After consuming the sweet drink for more than a week, the rats were offered a high-calorie, sweet chocolate treat before having a meal of normal rat chow.
Rats that were used to drinking the naturally sweetened liquid compensated for the pre-meal snack by eating less rat chow. But the rats accustomed to the artificially sweetened liquid ate more rat chow, suggesting that they were less adept at figuring out how many calories they should eat.
In the second study, rats were given a high-calorie dietary supplement that had the consistency of either chocolate milk or chocolate pudding. Even though the thick and thin supplements had the same amount of calories, rats given the thin one consumed more and gained more weight during the study.
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