We’ve known for some time that artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungry and prompt you to eat more. Now a team of Australian researchers has determined why this happens, at least in fruit flies and mice. The investigators gave fruit flies an artificially sweetened diet for more than 5 days and found that the bugs ate 30 percent more calories than they did when given naturally sweetened food.
Not just extra eating, but sleep is affected too
Further investigation showed that the brain’s reward centers integrate sweet tastes with energy content (calories). But when the sweetness and energy are out of balance (as they are when a sweet taste lacks calories), the researchers found that the brain adjusts the balance by inducing more eating. They also found and were able to map a neuronal network in the brain that balances the palatability of food with its energy content.
In addition, the study showed that artificial sweeteners promoted hyperactivity, insomnia and decreased sleep quality. (The effects on sleep had been reported earlier in human studies.) The study team repeated the fruit fly experiment in mice and observed the same increase in food consumption when the animals’ food was artificially sweetened, as well as activation of the same neuronal network seen in the insects.
These new findings may help explain the paradoxical effect artificial sweeteners seem to have on calorie consumption. We have ample circumstantial evidence suggesting that artificial sweeteners are implicated in the obesity epidemic: the number of Americans consuming artificially sweetened food and drink rose from 70 million in 1987 to 160 million in 2000. During that same period, obesity rates rose dramatically.
I have long advised people to stay away from artificial sweeteners for various reasons, and I do not believe they are an effective weight loss strategy. These latest findings add to the accumulating evidence that artificial sweeteners make it harder – not easier – to lose weight.
Weight issues at menopause are common, due to the fluctuating hormones, but low fat and no sugar options have frequently been shown to have the opposite effect to helping you lose weight.
Along with hormone balance, regular exercise and stress reduction the best diet is a more natural one with plenty of variety including good sources of protein, fruit, vegetables and limited carbohydrates at menopause.