Did you hear that? That was the collective shriek of diet-soda drinkers after reading about the latest study linking artificial sweeteners to hunger.
Previous research has connected the non-booze part of Taylor Swift’s favorite cocktail with increased appetite and calorie consumption and gaining more belly fat than people who didn’t drink diet soda. Now, Australian researchers believe they’ve determined why our brains respond to fake sugar this way.
They gave fruit flies food laced with sucralose (brand name Splenda) for five days while a control group got food sweetened with table sugar. The Splenda flies ate 30 percent more calories than the control, and when theytook away the artificially sweetened food, the effect vanished.
After looking at the flies’ nerve impulses, they found that the brain’s reward centers associate sweet tastes with the expectation that a flood of calories is coming. Since the artificially-sweetened food provides fewer calories than the brain expected, the brain puts out a call to get more food. As the lead researcher said in a release: “When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases total calories consumed.”
They replicated the study in mice and got similar results: mice given food with fake sugar for seven days ate 50 percent more than mice given food with real sugar and the mice had the same nerve impulses involved. The researchers published their findings in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Scientific American says it’s too early to fully apply these findings to humans but the case against artificial sweeteners is getting stronger by the day. And this is not to say that you should start drinking regular soda instead of diet — at the very least, experts believe there is some metabolic consequence to consuming fake sugar.