Lately, we have been hearing a lot in the media about the dangers of sugar consumption. Added sugar raises the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, not to mention having an addictive effect on the brain.
Therefore, in an attempt to avoid sugar, many people have turned to low calorie sweeteners instead. Artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste with none of the side effects, so it appears to be a welcome and healthful “trick.”
So, many people have bought into the idea that, according to some estimates, about a quarter of children in the United States, and more than 40% of adults, are currently consuming low calorie sweeteners.
But, are artificial sweeteners as harmless as people seem to think? Research from a few years ago suggested that artificial sweeteners can still promote diabetes and obesity. And now, a new study adds to the evidence that sweeteners may have undeniable metabolic effects.
In fact, the latest study suggests that merely tasting something sweet could alter our metabolism and glucose control.
- Yanina Pepino, a professor of food science and human nutritionat the University of Illinois in Chicago, is the lead author of the new paper, which appears in the journal Nutrients.
The hypothesis that Prof. Pepino and her colleagues set out to test was that sucralose, or the artificial sweetener found in low calorie sweeteners, would affect the metabolic response of people of moderate weight and that of those living with obesity differently.
Testing sucralose’s effect on metabolism
To test their hypothesis, the researchers asked 21 participants — “10 with normal weight and 11 with obesity” — to take oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT) after ingesting glucose and sucralose.
None of the participants had diabetes or consumed artificial sweeteners regularly. First, the participants took an OGTT after they drank distilled water.
Then, a week apart, they took the test again after they consumed water with 48 grams of sucralose in it — the equivalent of a typical can of soda — and finally, a third test when they tasted the same amount of sucralose for 5 seconds but did not swallow it.