One of the most disturbing claims against artificial sweeteners is that they can cause weight gain. The majority of the people who use these products often do so in order to save calories to lose or maintain weight. We are told that this is why we need to consume them and it would be upsetting to find out that they have actually been a part of the problem and not the solution. At this time, the research is showing both possibilities.
The research that shows weight gain with artificial-sweetener consumption has been around since the 1970s. The Nurses’ Health Study in 1970 found weight gain over eight years in 31,940 women using saccharin. In the early ’80s, the American Cancer Society’s study of 78,694 women found that after one year 2.7% to 7.1% more regular artificial-sweetener users gained weight compared to nonusers. The San Antonio Heart Study followed 3,682 adults over eight years on the early ’80s. Those who consumed more artificial sweeteners had higher BMIs, and the more that they consumed, the higher the BMI.
In some studies where they replaced sugar-sweetened beverages with artificial sweetened ones, no difference in weight loss was shown. The possible cause of this could be that artificial sugar actually increases sugar cravings. The theory is that our bodies sense the sweetness of the food and expect the calories. When you consume the artificial sweetener without the calories, your body continues to crave the calories so you end up eating more calories later on. In rat studies, rats fed diets with artificial sweeteners ate more calories all day then those fed meals with sugar. There may also be a connection a with a complex food reward pathway that drives our desire to eat. The sweetness without the calories interferes with the normal process of this pathway causing an increased craving for sweets.
A final possibility for the relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight gain is the impact that high amounts of sweet taste has on how much we need to feel satisfied. Artificial sweeteners are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter then sugar. It has been found that repeated exposure to a flavor trains flavor preferences. Think of how your tastes buds get used to new flavors when you makes changes in your diet. When people cut back on their intake of salt or fat there will be a preference for lower levels of these in their diets after several weeks. Anyone who gets used to skim milk will tell you that whole milk tastes too strong for them. The same is true for salty foods. The difference with these and cutting back on sugar is that artificial sweeteners are put in place of sugar so you never get the chance to get used to consuming less of that taste.
The best way to know if artificial sweeteners are impacting your weight is to experiment. Cut them out of your diet and see what happens. The key is not to add too many calories from sugar. Give your body time to get used to the change. Your sugar cravings will start off strong, but you should see a decrease over time. It may be the diet secret that you have been searching for.