Sugar substitutes–bad for our diet?
A recent study has looked at the problem: why do we still feel hungry after eating (or drinking) foods with sugar substitutes? Sugar substitutes have either very low or zero calories and therefore do not give us the energy our brains demand. It detects that something sweet is coming, because our taste buds have just told it, but it doesn’t happen – it was an artificial sweetener. But this is not fooling our brains! It has detected something sweet and wants something sweet. Research using fruit flies suggest that the brain is able to differentiate between real sugar and fake sugar – sugar triggers a hormone that activates mechanisms within the brain and gut, activating digestion and informing the brain that sugar is on its way. Artificial sweeteners do not do this, so the brain knows that despite the taste buds saying one thing, it is not getting the hormone response from the gut and therefore it does not switch off the satiety signal – which means you end up back in the fridge looking for something else.
This may explain why “diet foods” just don’t work, they themselves may not give you the calorie value to build fat, but the behaviour it drives within you after you’ve eaten them might!
Sugar substitutes are fine for “weening” you off sugar; for example, if you like sugar in your tea or coffee, then use substitutes to slowly help you reduce the sweetness in your drinks but putting less and less in over a period of time until you can drink it without any sugar or sweetener. What will happen is, when you go back to having a drink with your original amount of sugar or sweetener, it will taste disgusting to you. Free sugar (as it is known, ie added sugar in foods) is becoming a health problem for most countries around the world and we’ve just adapted a tolerance to it, even crave it! But by reducing the amount in your diet will slowly help you adapt to a life with less sugar and thus better weight management and healthier teeth.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.