Do artificial sweeteners cause weight gain?

This is interesting. Several recent studies have linked artificial sweeteners with weight gain, which I find baffling and counter to my own experience. The rationale used to explain the phenomenon is that just the sensation of a sweet taste provokes an insulin surge in anticipation of sugar just as a ringing bell associated with feeding caused Pavlov’s dogs to salivate. The insulin then promotes fat storage.

A new study from Purdue University seems to confirm that using artificial sweeteners makes it harder, not easier to lose weight. (Here’s a link to the article, “Low Cal Sweeteners Tied to Weight Gain”:

The scientists fed yogurt, sweetened with either saccharin or glucose, to rats and discovered that the ones who got the saccharin went on to eat more and gain more weight and body fat than the ones who were given real sugar. The researchers speculated that the sweet-tasting foods prompted the body to prepare for a lot of calories, but when the extra calories failed to follow, the body was confused, which may have led to eating more calories or expending less energy than normal.

Herein may lie the explanation for why those of us who are on low-carb diets don’t react like the rats in the study. If the expectation of calories is the causative factor, and the calories don’t materialize, the rats over-eat. But what would happen if the sweet taste were accompanied by plenty of calories from fat and protein but not from carbs? Would you have happy, satisfied rats consuming lots of calories that can’t be stored as fat?

I’m not a scientist, so I’m clearly out of my comfort zone here, but I’d be interested in hearing from some of you who are perhaps better qualified than I am as to what you make of this study.

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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15 years ago

I’ve just spent the last hour googling all I can find about Splenda. I saw nothing about it’s use for the last 10+ years in Canada. Shouldn’t we be seeing adverse reactions from that population if it exists? Surely that would count as a “human experiment”…

Judy Barnes Baker
16 years ago

Hi Jon:
I’m glad we agree on the subject of fats. As to your opinion that my knowledge of sweeteners is lacking, I rely on the information from trustworthy experts like Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. Jonny Bowden, and many others. And here is the mother lode of scientific research on sucralose from the British Nutrition Foundation:

If you are going to make unsubstantiated accusations, you should quote the sources for your information. Since you have chosen to hide your identity, it is difficult to tell whether you are associated with the anti-sucralose, fear-mongering factions or if you have an interest in promoting the sale of competing products who are losing out to sucralose. It would make for a better dialog if you would reveal who you are to show that you have no agenda or affiliation with the anti-sucralose activists, but of course that would make you accountable for your statements and leave you open to legal action.

You can read my answers about why I use Splenda here,, and here,

[I had already planned to comment about an article that appeared in the news recently about the potential dangers of agave, so that will show up on my blog sometime soon. Here’s a quote form the article:

“It’s almost all fructose, highly processed sugar with great marketing,” said Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “Fructose has a low glycemic index so it doesn’t raise blood glucose. But it raises blood fructose, which is worse.”]

As I’ve said before, “natural” is not synonymous with “safe.” Snake venom is 100% natural.

16 years ago

I looked through your cookbook and some posts on your site…Splenda, Splenda, Splenda…

I think your take on fats is right on… you didn’t villify saturated fat (which is a good thing) and you didn’t laud the benefits of polyunsaturated fats (most people get WAY too much omega-6 and it’s a direct cause of heart disease and inflammation). Good job.

But your knowledge of the health dangers of artificial sweeteners is obviously lacking.

Not to mention that there are now so many good alternatives. Erithritol, stevia, lo han guo, agave nectar… etc. to bake with and sweeten with.

Why put chemicals in your food? Especially those known to cause neurological and mutagenic problems? I would be ashamed to recommend people to eat a chlorinated molecule that does not exist in nature, when there are such effective all-natural alternatives available.

Judy Barnes Baker
16 years ago

Hi Tracy.
I’d like to see a study like that also. Often the headlines are misleading in reports about studies like these. You really have to look hard to see what they really tested.

16 years ago

Same here. I haven’t found any problems using artificial sweeteners.

I wouldn’t have made the connection with satiety, but it makes perfect sense. It would be nice to see this study done with humans, one group using AS with a low calorie diet and one using AS with a low carb, ad lib diet.

16 years ago

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16 years ago

I agree with you Judy. I’d guess that if the foods the rats were fed were something other than yogurt, or were later fed foods high in fat and protein, they may have had different results. I think it all boils down to the satiety factor.

Like you, my results with artificial sweeteners have been the opposite. As long as I avoid the processed carbs, I find my appetite is under control, regardless of my use of artificial sweeteners.