Proving once again that what seems too good to be true probably is, a recent LA Times article sheds new light on the use of saccharin for weight loss. A study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that saccharin appeared to drive rats to overeat by “breaking the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories.” In experiments funded by the National Institute of Health and Purdue University, rats received yogurt sweetened with either saccharin or glucose, which is pretty close chemically to good old table sugar. Because body temperature typically rises after digesting food in the production of energy, the researchers evaluated rat temperature after eating. Interestingly, the rats fed the sugar substitute had a smaller increase in temperature than the ones fed glucose. Moreover, the rats consuming yogurt and saccharin gained more body fat than those eating yogurt and glucose. In short, the sugar substitute not only failed to help the rats lose weight, but made them gain it.
The study’s lead author explains that sweet tastes normally alert the body that it’s going to receive a large amount of calories, which gears up a digestive system reaction. When there’s no follow through of real sweets, “the body becomes conditioned against a strong response.” That is, it doesn’t gear up in the same way and therefore doesn’t produce as much energy (which burns off calories).
There have been challenges to the study and its conclusions and more research needs to be done to understand the affect of saccharin on weight gain. My point isn’t to help you bone up on neuroscience, but to get you thinking about how doggone efficient and smart our bodies are. Imagine—the digestive system is so clever that it can detect a sugar surrogate and shifts its reaction because of it. To me that’s one more argument to eat real food (unless, of course, it’s harmful to you physiologically). There’s nothing wrong—and, according to these studies, everything right—with having sugar in your life. Your body expects it and even has a way of preparing for it and burning it off through digestion.
Think of it, we have these amazing machines—our bodies—most of which work pretty well when we start off, and then we go out and muck about with them until we ruin how they function. It’s sad, it’s frustrating, and sometimes what we’ve done is irreversible. But most often it’s not too late to begin respecting our bodies and giving them what they need to return to functioning normally and effectively. Try to go the natural route, at least with sugar. Stop focusing on weight gain or loss and start focusing on enjoying food more.