Not-so sweeteners

written by Terry Robson

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Sucralose is one of the popular artificial sweeteners turned to by those who want to cut down on sugar (and who clearly haven’t heard about the natural alternatives). The blurbs on sucralose tell you that it is derived from sucrose (sugar) and is somewhere around 600-700 times sweeter than sugar yet is not broken down and so contributes effectively no kilojoules (calories) to your daily intake. That sounds wonderful, sweet yet kilojoule-free, but as a new study has shown, the “no kilojoule” part of that equation might be a touch misleading.

The new study was co-led by researchers from the University of Sydney and began by giving fruit flies a diet that was high in sucralose for a period of at least five days. After that amount of time when the fruit flies were given food that was naturally sweetened their kilojoule intake increased by 30 per cent.

In a follow up study the researchers gave sucralose to mice and found that again it resulted in greater kilojoule intake. What is more, the researchers found that the same mechanism was in operation in both the flies and the mice.

The researchers found that in inside the reward brain centres of the brain sweet sensation is correlated with energy content. When sweetness versus energy content is out of balance for a reasonable period of time the brain recalibrates and increases the amount of kilojoules consumed. This is achieved by the triggering of a complex neuronal network that has the role of correlating food taste with energy content. This is part of an evolutionary strategy that makes nutritive food taste even better when you are starving. The net result for sucralose is that it makes you feel hungrier and as a result eat more.

In addition these researchers found that raised consumption of artificial sweeteners is associated with hyperactivity, lowered sleep quality, and insomnia. It seems these artificial sweeteners are not so sweet after all.


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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.