A mismatch of sweeteness and calories could be triggering weight gain, study says

A new research published in the journal Current Biology, which was done by a group of researchers from the Yale University, U.S suggests that diet drinks as well as foods might actually increase weight and thereby trigger diabetes as the brain slows down metabolism when there is a mismatch between sweetness and calories.

Naturally, energy is signaled by sweetness; the calories are more when there is a greater sweetness. So, the brain is evolved in such a way that it expects both the calories and sweetness to come together. When it does not happen, the brain confuses it for lesser calories to burn.

According to Tam Fry, at the National Obesity Forum, this study might be sufficient to convince people that artificial sweeteners, whether present in drinks or in food, can have a negative effect on the human body. These sweeteners might lack calories, but not consequences, of which, diabetes is only one.

The researchers also said this study might help in explaining prior studies that reported that the artificial sweeteners has the potential to increase the blood sugar levels and possibly lead to diabetes.        

Dana Small, the senior author and Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, said: “A calorie is not a calorie. The assumption that more calories trigger greater metabolic and brain response is wrong. Calories are only half of the equation; sweet taste perception is the other half.”

According to her, human bodies are evolved to use the available natural sources of energy efficiently, but, the modern food environment consists of energy sources that are not seen by the bodies before. Metabolism of energy becomes less while the energy as well the sweetness are not matched and signals transferred to the brain gets inaccurate or weak. Any one of these impacts might affect the metabolic health of the concerned person.  

In the new study, brains of 15 participants, when they drank diet drinks were scanned and were then compared with regular beverages. The amount of energy burned by the body was also monitored.  

The findings revealed that apart from the failure of the calories in triggering metabolism, the mismatch of sweetness and calories also resulted in the failure of the reward circuits inside the brain in registering that consumption of the calories had been done. This might lead to the consumption of more food.

Dominic Dwyer, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University, commented that this mismatch might cause a negative impact on weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and so on; however, further studies are needed to find the link between unburned calories and metabolic health.

As said by Mr. Dwyer, the most vital complication lies in the fate of the calories that are taken in the mismatch condition. During ingestion, these calories will not get properly digested, and so, they are stored or processed later, interfering with metabolism and leading to weight gain.

British experts, who are more skeptical about the findings, are of the opinion that those who are concerned about taking diet drinks should stick to drinking water.

Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at Glasgow University, commended that even though there is no solid evidence to prove the negative impacts on diet drinks are on health, a stronger as well as reliable evidence for the link of sugar sweetened drinks to higher risk of diabetes do exist.

“The statement that a calorie is not a calorie is gobbledegook”, said Tom Sanders, Professor emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics, at King's College London. He commented that the findings of the study are not supported by observational proof on long-term consumers of artificial sweeteners.  

He also stated that an analysis of experiments in which sugar sweetened drinks were replaced by artificially flavored drinks showed some weight loss. He argues that artificial sweeteners cannot cause weight gain.

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