February 12, 2008

Do zero-calorie sweeteners really make "free" foods?

It always makes me cringe when I see people who are trying to “eat healthy” reaching for diet sodas and other products with artificial sweeteners. It’s not that I eat all organic or anything even remotely close to that. I do eat some chemicals in my diet, but I do try to avoid fake sugar. I find it really nasty tasting, and I was conditioned early in life by my mom that it was bad for you and not to touch it.

By avoiding Splenda, Nutrasweet, Sucralose, and all the rest, it means I can’t down a liter of soda a day just because it’s zero calories. And that seems about right to me. I know these products are chemically engineered not to mess up your diet, but the idea of putting something into my body that’s not water, and basically not having to count it in my daily calories just… doesn’t make sense to me. Well, now this study seems to indicate that artificial sweeteners may actually cause you to gain weight.

If you read the comments below the article, it gets pretty interesting. I really like Moddoctor’s comment, which says,
“It’s an interesting question whether merely consuming sweet (calories or no) can result in weight gain. There’s a distinct possibility that there’s a metabolic cascade that is set in motion in response to sweet beyond the appetite stimulus that clearly occurs. If this is the case then it’s much more challenging to reformulate the diet than just shuffling the calories out because flavoring becomes key as well.”
I agree with that completely. Just because something is low-cal doesn’t mean you can eat it indefinitely. One of my coworkers brought in some Robert’s Gourmet Veggie Booty today, whih is 130 cals/oz – not too bad. However, after I had a little bit (1/2 serving), it’s made me really hungry, and I’m craving a lot of unhealthy stuff I normally wouldn’t want. I think there’s something to be said for certain flavors making you hungry for more (read the chapter in Fast Food Nation about flavor engineering: it’s pretty enlightening).

However, if you read all the comments on that study, you’ll see that a lot of people don’t believe this study. One person says,
“I read about this research in the paper yesterday. I believe the conclusion was that because the rats ate things which were sweet but low-calorie, this confused their sense of how much food they needed. So they ate more food overall than the rats who had sugar.”
That doesn’t really make sense to me though. If they’re filling up on low-calorie things, wouldn’t they then be less hungry, and eat less food overall than rats who had sugar? Calories don’t necessarily correspond to how hungry you are. If you don’t believe me, compare eating a huge bowl (3 cups) of steamed veggies to eating 4 Hershey’s Kisses. Both are about 100 calories, but I bet you will be a lot less hungry after eating the veggies than the chocolate (this is the principle on which Volumetrics is based).

I tried to read the whole study to figure out the methodology, but as I’m not really a science-y person and I found it kind of tough to tell whether the rats who got artificial sweetener ate more on their own accord or what. If anyone can explain to me in plain English how it was set up, I’d really appreciate it.

From a calorie-counting perspective, if I have a glass of regular soda, that means I really have to cut back on what I eat for the rest of the day. However, some people will chug diet soda and then not subtract calories, because it’s zero-calorie soda. As I said, I’m not really science-y, so I don’t really understand how they can make this stuff be zero calories, but something about it just doesn’t seem healthy or right (not in the sense of being just, but in the sense of being correct/accurate). I agree that weight loss is calories in
Do you eat artificial sweeteners? If so, how often and in what products?


2 thoughts on “Do zero-calorie sweeteners really make "free" foods?”

  1. I decided that artificial sweetners were in fact hurting my diet and making me crave other sweets or just want more food. I don’t know if it effects everyone the same, but I think they are addicting too. I cut out the diet soda and feel better, so now I’m trying not to buy yogurt with splenda and such (nevermind the icky taste).

    Totally totally agree on volumetrics too.. how amazing that is! I think you train your body by eatting a certain way and then that’s what you crave.

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