Artificial Sweeteners Ruin Your Body's Ability to Count Calories

The number of Americans consuming sugar-free products increased from less than 70 million in 1987 to more than 160 million in 2000. During the same period, the consumption of regular soft drinks increased by more than 15 gallons per capita annually and the average American now consumes over 600 cans of soda a year.

Researchers from Purude found that artificial sweeteners may disrupt your body's natural ability to "count" calories based on foods' sweetness. This finding may explain why so many people lack the natural ability to regulate their food intake and body weight. The researchers also found that thick liquids aren't as satisfying - calorie for calorie - as are more solid foods. Being able to automatically match calore intake with calore need depends on your body's ability to learn that the taste and feel of food by the mouth suggests the appropriate caloric intake. Much as Pavlov's dogs learned that the sound of a bell signaled food, you learn that both sweet tastes and dense, thick foods signal high calories. This learning process begins very early in life and perhaps without conscious awareness.

Over the past 25 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of artificially sweetened foods and low viscosity or mostly liquid, high-calorie beverages. Obesity has also skyrocketed during this period. The researchers believe that experience with artificially sweetened foods interferes with the natural ability of your body to use sweet taste and thickness to gauge the calorie content of foods and beverages. When you substitute artificial sweetener for real sugar, however, your body learns it can no longer use its sense of taste to gauge calories. So, your body may be fooled into thinking a product sweetened with sugar has no calories and, therefore, you overeat.

Your body learns that if the food is thick, such as whole milk, it tends to have more calories than compared to a thinner liquid such as skim milk. Your body translate this information about perceived calories into a gauge to tell you when to stop eating. The researchers based their hypothesis on Pavlovian theory.

Ivan Pavlov, known for his work in the early 20th century, is famous for his experiment in training dogs to associate food with the ringing of a bell. After being conditioned to the bell, the dogs salivated when they heard it - even when they did not see or smell food. Davidson and Swithers propose that rats learn a similar relationship between the taste or texture of a food and the calories it contains and may use this information to control food intake and body weight.

International Journal of Obesity July 2004;28(7) Pages 933-935

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