Last week we took an in-depth look at sweeteners. The discovery that artificial sweeteners don’t help us to lose weight wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who keeps up with the scientific evidence.

In fact, as long ago as 1988, clinical trials showed that adding saccharin to rats’ water supply made them eat up to 15 per cent more food than rats drinking just plain water (Appetite, 1988).

In the same year, Leeds University in the UK found the same result with people. Tests comparing artificial sweeteners with sugar as sweetener showed that the artificial ones increased people’s appetites, making them eat more food. We have to ask why.

It is probably because of “the uncoupling of the sensory and energetic components of sweet solutions”, said the researchers (Physiol. Behav.,1988).

In other words, having tasted something really sweet, the body expects, and fails to receive, the promised energy boost. So it resorts to fulfilling expectations by eating more food.

Since the 1980s, many studies have confirmed the paradoxical fact that artificial sweeteners do not help people lose weight. One of today’s leading researchers is Susan Swithers at Purdue University in the US, whose theory is that sweeteners upset “fundamental homoeostatic, physiological processes by interfering with learned relations between the sweet taste of food and the caloric or nutritive consequences of consuming those foods” (Behav. Brain Res., 2012).

It is incredible to observe the powerful effects that artificial sweeteners have on the brain. Tests in 2008 found that sugar activates totally different parts of the brain compared with artificial sweeteners, in particular the dopamine transmission system, which is tied in with the reward signals in the brain.

It is incredible to observe the powerful effects that artificial sweeteners have on the brain

According to the University of Colorado, “brain response distinguished the caloric from the non-caloric sweetener, although the conscious mind could not”.

This could have important implications on how effective artificial sweeteners are in their ability to substitute sugar intake. It must be added that some studies have not found this paradox. However, these particular studies have been funded by the sweetener industry itself (Nutrition, 2013).

It is worth taking a look at the lesser known additives in our food.

• Emulsifiers: these chemicals are routinely added to margarine, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, ice cream, packaged processed foods and baked goods ‘to improve texture and extend shelf life’. Authorities have always claimed that emulsifiers are harmless.

Tests have shown interesting results. One test with mice being fed emulsifiers in their food and water, they developed ‘low-grade intestinal inflammation, increased body weight and abdominal fat’.

Another research, carried out in Belgium, reported identical results and two scientists in Israel have warned that emulsifiers may be a ‘dietary clue to the pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease’.

• Fat substitutes: low-fat processed foods contain yet another class of fat substitute. These are added to provide the good taste of fat without the weight gain, supposedly caused by the real thing. Fat substitutes are made from chemically processed vegetable oils, carbohydrates or proteins. Many are indeed low in calories but mainly because they are not recognised by the body as food and so are expelled as undigested waste.

As with artificial sweeteners, animal tests have shown that fat substitutes lead to higher food intake and greater weight gain.

• Interesterified fats (IEF since food manufacturers are now prohibited from using trans fatty acids (TFAs), due to the confirmed health risks, they have been looking for safer alternatives. They believe that IEFs are the solution.

They are made by chemically combining solid and saturated fats with vegetable oils to create fats with the same functions as TFAs, which is extending shelf life.

However, trials with humans have shown that IEFs have the same health risks as TFAs. One early study found that they raised LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and interfered with glucose metabolism. A damning review, written five years ago, recommended that “more research is warranted to determine the appropriateness of IEF consumption, particularly before it becomes embedded in the food supply chain”.

Unsurprisingly, more research has not been carried out and IEFs are not even required to be listed on labels. So if you see a product boasting that it is TFA free or contains ‘non-hydrogenated fats’, it may well contains IEFs.

Susan Swithers says: “The real concern with artificial sweeteners is what they are doing metabolically – negative outcomes such as hyperglycaemia, insulin resistance and increased abdominal adiposity, independent of changes in body weight, are all a huge concern.”

The findings of various studies suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners may have directly contributed to enhancing the exact epidemic they were intended to fight. They tend to develop the very disorders they were designed to prevent.

This calls for a reassessment of today’s massive, unsupervised consumption of these substances.

It is no use whatever to state that we should cut down on sugar if we are going to substitute artificial sweeteners in its place.

kathryn@maltanet.net

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