Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingTo cut down on calories, many of us turn to artificial sweeteners, but new research suggests that strategy may backfire.
Dieting is big business, to the tune of fifty billion dollars a year. However, the vast majority of people on a diet -- ninety-eight percent -- fail to lose weight. Could it be that artificial sweeteners are making us fatter?
Dr. William Dietz, DCD: "The increases in obesity in the US have been very dramatic over the last 20 years and I don't think we're ever going to understand what's precisely caused it."
But a new study from Purdue may shed some new light. The research suggests artificial sweeteners, the stuff found in everything from diet drinks to chewing gum, could be tipping the scales, doing more harm than good, and impairing our natural ability to count calories and regulate weight.
As early as infancy we learn to spot high-energy foods; they're sweeter and thicker. Without thinking about it, babies eat enough to meet their caloric needs. But somewhere along the way things change and people overeat.
To test the role of fake sugars, researchers studied rats trained for ten days to drink either sugar water or water sweetened with saccharin. After those ten days the rats were then given a high calorie treat followed by all the lab chow they wanted. The 'diet drink' rats lost control and ate three times as much as the sugar group.
Researchers say artificial sweeteners may make it harder to predict the calories you get from food, which in turn could make it harder to compensate when you overeat by eating less later on. If it holds true in people it could be a piece of the much larger puzzle.
Of course it’s important to remember that, first of all, this study was done in rats and not humans. Secondly, the obesity epidemic is more complicated and may involve genetics, the American lifestyle, fast food and the easy access to calories. Healthy choices aren't easy choices.