Artificially sweetened products have never been more popular. Last year alone we consumed over 66 tonnes of the stuff, nearly ten tonnes more than a decade ago. They're in our drinks, desserts, snacks, even our crisps, vitamin pills and medicines but do they really work? A growing number of experts think not. Here's three reasons why:
1) Artificial sweeteners may trigger cravings for the real thing.
When trying to find out which food additives would make pigs eat the most, researchers at Louisiana State University tested twenty nine different combinations and artificial sweeteners came out top. Studies on rats have shown similar findings and researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Centre have found the same to be true in humans. Their study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, analysed over 7 years worth of data on 1,550 Americans (aged 25 to 64) and showed that those who drank diet drinks had a far greater chance of piling on the pounds and becoming overweight than those that opted for regular soft drinks.
2) Artificial sweeteners may disrupt our ability to register the calories we eat.
According to researchers from Purdue University, USA this is because the body uses food characteristics such as sweetness to gauge calorie intake. However, when a sweet food is eaten that does not contain calories this mechanism is fooled. The body then adjusts to believing that sugary foods are low in calories so next time a naturally sweet food is eaten it is more likely to overeat.
3) Artificial sweeteners may increase fat consumption.
The body is a very clever machine and when we take out sugar and replace it with sugar free artificial sweeteners it may seek out the fastest route to replace those calories which is invariably in the form of fat, as gram for gram, fat contains more than twice the calories of sugar.
So is the answer 'sugar full' rather than 'sugar free?
No. We know that drinking too many sugar sweetened beverages, including fruit juice will pile on the pounds. The best solution is to work on reducing your sweet tooth by cutting back on the amount of sugary foods you consume and drink naturally flavoured low calorie drinks instead such as still or sparkling water flavoured with real fruit juice, lemon or fresh mint.