Is ‘going diet’ causing weight gain?

I’m really interested at the moment on the topic of artificially sweetened foods and drinks and their effects on weight, and then I came across this review which was published in 2010. Not the most recent evidence I admit, however it is the most recent review which brings together all relevant literature on the subject.

A lot of my patients drink diet soda drinks, add sweeteners to their teas/coffees and consume artificially sweetened foods – all in the name of weight loss and calorie restriction. However the evidence is suggesting more and more that actually these sweeteners are having negative effects on weight, as opposed to simply cutting out calories. The studies so far only show a small amount of weight gain, either through a rise in BMI or a weight gain of around 1-2kg, however the important thing is that this weight gain is viewed as statistically significant. In addition to this, interventional studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners do not help to reduce weight alone through simple calorie restriction when compared to participants consuming the sugar alternative.

What also interests me is the neuronal response to these sweeteners, and the thought is that these artificial sweeteners do not activate the usual food reward pathways in the same fashion as sugar. Food reward consists of two branches: sensory (AKA hedonic) and postingestive, where the postingestive component depends on the metabolic products of the food. As artificial sweeteners will not have the same effect metabolically, for example in terms of blood glucose and insulin response, this pathway is not fully activated. The hedonic hunger is satisfied, however the postingestive pathway is not. Therefore the theory is that this lack of complete activation leaves us wanting more; and either knowingly or inadvertently we actually ‘make up’ for the calories that the sweeteners left us without. Causing either overall weight gain, or no weight loss.

Although inconclusive, and in the early days of research, I find this really interesting, and am passing this on to my patients, especially if they are consuming a large amount of sweeteners per day.

I am also starting to come to the belief that it is not the fats within our foods that are leading us into this obesity epidemic, but the sugars. We are becoming more and more reliant and demanding for sweeter foods and drinks, for example you can now buy ‘supersweet’ versions of vegetables in the supermarkets, and therefore we are gradually adapting to this this sweeter diet. This cannot be good for us in the long term, for both weight and medical reasons such as diabetes and dental health, and I am hoping that further research will find out more about the long-term effects of continuous artificial sweetener consumption, and be more conclusive on their effects on body weight.

P.s. Completely irrelevant to this post, however do check out this website on the scale of the universe, it’s amazing!!

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2 thoughts on “Is ‘going diet’ causing weight gain?

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