Switching to artificial sweeteners to boost the impact of a weight loss diet is in fact counterproductive, new research suggests.
An Australian animal study published in journal Cell Metabolism found artificial sweeteners combined with a low carbohydrate diet increased the amount of calories consumed and led to weight gain in fruit flies.
The findings expand on previous research that suggested sweeteners affect the brain in ways that alter the regulation of appetite and perceptions of taste.
“Here we show that acute ingestion of sucralose (sweetener) in the context of a low-carbohydrate diet causes a pronounced increase in calories consumed,” the authors said.
Researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences offered fruit flies diets with varying amounts of carbohydrate and sweeteners, and tracked resulting food intake.
Flies that consumed artificial sweeteners alongside a low carbohydrate diet showed an immediate increase in food intake.
The increase varied according to the dose of sweeteners provided and was not observed in flies consuming unsweetened foods.
Lead author Associate Professor Greg Neely says there is a growing body of evidence that shows a “clear” connection between artificial sweeteners, hunger and food intake.
While the findings of the fruit fly study may not translate to humans, Associate Professor Neely says a systematic investigation is required to understand the full impact of artificial sweeteners on overall health.
“Distorting the perceived energy value of food, by manipulating sweetness through artificial means, has unanticipated consequences in these animal studies” Associate Professor Neely said.