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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Diet Drink Making You Fat?

If you are consumer of diet drinks or really anything that contains artificial sweeteners (and there are plenty of foods on the market that do), then yesterday's news of a study linking the consumption of saccharin to increased odds of gaining weight may have left you dumbfounded. Isn't weight gain just calories in vs calories out? If I am drinking a diet drink (or eating a light yogurt) aren't I getting fewer calories than the sugar sweetened and therefore preventing weight gain? Yes, you are getting fewer calories, but this study says that may not matter.

Let's look more closely at the research. The study looked at rats who were given sugar (glucose) sweetened yogurt vs yogurt sweetened with saccharin (Sweet'N Low). They found that the rats who ate the saccharin sweetened yogurt gained more weight and increased body fat than the rats who ate the yogurt sweetened with sugar. The reason was that they did not cut back on food later in the day and ate more calories.

The researchers think this is because saccharin changes the body's ability to regulate intake. Sweet foods provide a stimulus that predicts that a person is about to intake a lot of calories. The body gears up with digestive reflexes and when it gets false sweetness, it gets confused. People end up eating more or expending less as a result.

Even though this study was done using saccharin, the researchers think aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and acesulfame K (Sunett) would all have similar results.

Bottom line
To be honest with you, I am not sure what to think about this study. As a moderate consumer of artificial sweeteners myself, part of me believes that it is still calories in vs calories out. This study was done on rats and not humans, and the rats gained weight because they ate more later in the day. I think (personal opinion) that you can still consume artificial sweeteners in moderation (just use common sense and don't have too many diet drinks, packets in your coffee or foods containing these sweeteners). Pay attention to your total calories for the day and be conscious of not eating more calories other places to make up for the reduced calorie food items containing the sweeteners. I look forward to future research in this area to see more on the exact effect of these artificial sweeteners on our appetites and bodies.

If you are opposed to anything artificial in your diet to begin with, that is great! I am not advocating using artificial sweeteners, but simply saying that if you choose to use them, pay close attention to how your body, and now mind, are reacting to them in your body. If you are not sure, go for a few weeks without them and see if it makes a difference in your appetite or craving of sweets. It may be an eye-opening and interesting experiment to do for yourself!

This study can be found in the February issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.

Logo of Sweet'N Low courtesy of www.sweetnlow.com
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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