How can artificial sweeteners make me gain weight?

Cathy Clark-Reyes, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Dietitians advise those on weight-management plans to limit artificial-sweetened foods and drinks partly because they can have a psychological component. If you drink a diet soda, for example, you may be more likely to consider eating something sweet or fattening later on.

Some studies have shown that shifting from sugar-sweetened beverages to zero-calorie artificially sweetened drinks may prevent weight gain, or help in weight loss. But other studies have suggested the reverse. One study found that overweight and obese adults who drank diet soda ate the same amount of calories as heavy adults who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages.

Sugar-free products may still have calories that can result in consuming extra calories. An excess caloric intake can lead to weight gain, which can lead to increase risks for developing diabetes, obesity, chronic diseases and even cancer.
Linda Bartoshuk, a psychologist and professor at the University of Florida who studies taste and obesity and Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson, psychologists at Purdue, have talked about the link between taste and weight. Swithers and Davidson have conducted animal studies on artificial sweeteners and guess what. That saccharine trickery may not be working. They postulate that when we drink diet sodas, our brain gets the signal of “sweet” but our bodies don’t get the glucose. They believe that the brain uses taste as an index of the calories to come, which we then need to burn. When the actual calories don’t follow the taste, what may happen is eating more or burning less energy.

In their studies, the rats that ate saccharine-sweetened food gained more weight. When our brains get the sweet signal it maintains our sugar cravings and throws off our brain and body’s ability to manage our energy demands. Artificial sweeteners are like methadone is to heroin -- meant to get us off of sugar without the caloric effects -- but the original problem of craving “sweet” remains and we continue to struggle with the craving. Watch your patterns with artificial sweeteners and see if you kick it up at certain times, because it may be setting you up for even bigger sugar transgressions at other times in the day and for weight gain down the road.
You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life

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You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life

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Dr. Rovenia Brock, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Watch as nutritionist Dr. Rovenia Brock explains how using artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Many people use artificial sweeteners to cut their caloric intake, but the very opposite effect can occur. New research shows that artificial sweeteners stimulate taste receptors that sense sweetness in both the esophagus and stomach. Anticipating energy, the pancreas releases insulin, an important hormone for accumulating body fat. At the same time, chemicals are sent to the brain’s satiety center, which becomes confused as to whether or not the body is actually receiving calories. The result? You feel even hungrier and less full, which can lead to weight gain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.