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Sugar Substitute Secret


Sweet taste vs calories cause heightened metabolic response

We’ve reported several articles over the years on the topic of artificial sweeteners.  Though they offer a sweet alternative with zero calories, they’ve been linked to abdominal obesity, increased appetite and now researchers at Yale University have uncovered another piece of the sugar substitute story. 

Published in Current Biology, new research exposes that sweetness level, not calories, in beverages helps to determine how calories are metabolized and signaled to the brain.  Investigators tested 5 identically sweet beverages of varying calorie levels with 15 participants.  Beverages were sweetened with the sugar substitute sucralose (equivalent to sweetness in 75 calorie beverage) and carbohydrates were in the form of tasteless maltodextrin in amounts of 0, 37, 75, 112 and 150 calories. 

Research participants consumed the beverages several times and their responses were measured via brain scans. Contrary to what they expected, researchers found that the 75 calorie beverage generated a stronger brain response than the 150 calorie drink.  This suggests that not all of the calories in the 150-calorie beverage were metabolized the same way.  It’s thought that calories, not taste, regulate metabolic signals and how calories are broken down into energy.  After a series of follow up experiments and analyses, researchers unraveled that the body’s metabolic response, or the amount of energy that the body expends to process calories, works as expected when calories match sweetness or taste.  However, when there is a mismatch in calories and sweetness the response is not as strong.  Lead researcher Dana Smalls describes the mismatch as though the system threw up its hands and didn’t know what to do, the brain didn’t register that calories had been consumed. 

Common examples of mismatches in today’s food environment are yogurt with low calorie sweeteners or a high calorie meal like a cheeseburger paired with a diet cola. Outstanding questions include- what happens to the excess calories?  How and where are they stored?  Is a high calorie meal coupled with artificial sweetener problematic?  Only future research will tell.  As for now, Smalls suggests that artificial sweeteners and food combinations are an important element to keep in mind when digesting research on this topic.   

For beverages that pack flavor and nutrition, these are worth a sip:    Pine Berry Spice PunchKokomo QuencherSuper Veggie Juice

Published January 1, 2018

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