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Artificial Sweeteners and Cravings: Why “Diet” Drinks May Have the Opposite Effect

by Editorial Team
artificial sweetener cravings

Diet drinks made with sucralose, artificial sweeteners and zero-calorie sugar substitute, increase appetite. According to the study, the results affected females and obese participants notably. Published in the JAMA Network Open, the study measures people’s responses to artificial sweeteners in three ways: 

  • Brain activity that relates to appetite and cravings. 
  • Blood samples to measure sugar levels and hormones associated with hunger and metabolism. 
  • How much participants ate in a buffet after each session. 

Participants were seen on three different occasions given drinks with either sucralose, regular sugar, and water. 

The Contrast 

The study shows that males and those with healthy weight did not experience a comparable increase in appetite. This result is based on brain activity and also caloric intake during the post-session buffet. 

Why? 

The research provides clues as to why diet or sugar-free drinks may have the opposite effects for females and obese individuals. “The idea is that artificial sweeteners may confuse the body by tricking it into thinking sugar is coming.” This has long-lasting implications. In an interview with NPR, Behavioral scientist Susan Swithers explains the hypothesis.

First, our bodies are conditioned to metabolize sugar when we eat something sweet. Replacing sugar with sucralose means the body does not get sugar to metabolize and process after sweet tasting food. As a result, we “blunt the body’s anticipatory response.” It follows that when the moment comes when you actually eat real sugar (sucrose either from fruits, vegetables, or just plain table sugar), our blood sugar and insulin levels experience higher increase in order to absorb the sugar. Our bodies work harder.   

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t control our intake of sucrose or real sugar. For instance, one research shows that banning sugary drinks all together in a workplace led to overall positive health outcomes. The study serves as a caution on what brands might sell to us as healthier alternatives.

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