Artificial sweeteners increase appetite and promote weight gain


Artificial sweeteners have gained enormous popularity in the era of obesity epidemics. In many products, they replaced sugar and were to be an ideal solution for people who are slimming and taking care of their figure – they allowed them to feel the pleasure of eating sweet products without worrying about calories. On the basis of many years of analysis, however, it has been shown that in long-term artificial sweeteners contribute to the increase in body weight, not to its decrease, affect the appetite and lead to increased calorie intake from food.

Saccharin – the oldest artificial sweetener – was discovered in 1879. For decades, it was available only for diabetics. During World War II there were times of large sugar shortages and increased popularity of saccharin. The subsequent fashion for a very slim figure contributed to its more frequent use. Women willingly exchanged caloric sugar for a calorie-free sweetener. Other popular sweeteners are cyclamate (synthesized in 1937), aspartame (1965), acesulfame K (1967) and sucralose (1979). The American Food and Drug Administration considers all sweeteners safe for health. For some substances, detailed studies of their carcinogenicity were carried out, and cyclamate was withdrawn from the market for 30 years. However, the allegations of carcinogenicity have been repelled as a result of the analysis of the tests and currently artificial sweeteners are considered harmless to health in this aspect.

The amount of products containing artificial sweeteners is still growing. A few decades ago, they were directed to diabetics and people who need to control blood sugar levels. Currently, light and sugar-free products are available everywhere and for everyone. In the United States, in the years 1999-2004, over 6,000 new products containing sweeteners were launched. They are most often found in carbonated drinks in the light version, but also in fruit drinks and nectars, yoghurts, sweets and even food for children. Taking care of a slim figure, we often exchange sugar in hot drinks for a sweetener tablet.


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Do artificial sweeteners help you lose weight?

Low-calorie or non-caloric artificial sweeteners have become very popular when sugar has been hailed as the main culprit of the obesity epidemic in developed countries. They replaced sugar and its other high-calorie counterparts in ready-made food and in the kitchens of many people. Their main advantage is the ability to reduce the calories taken with the diet without giving up the sweet taste. Replacing sugar for sweeteners was to contribute to the loss of body weight in society and reduce the risk of diseases related to overweight and obesity. Due to the recommendation of sweeteners as a way to fight overweight, the consumption of carbonated beverages increased from 3 percent in 1965 to 20 percent today.

Abuse of artificial sweeteners may promote weight gain.

It turns out, however, that in the long-term perspective, the consumption of artificial sweeteners is not conducive to the loss of excessive body weight, and may even contribute to weight gain. Such conclusions have been drawn from large-scale epidemiological studies.


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Sample studies on the impact of artificial sweeteners on body weight

In the San Antonio Heart Study in the 1980s, 3,682 adults were examined. The observation lasted from 7 to 8 years. It was noticed that in people who drank beverages containing artificial sweeteners, the increase in BMI (body mass index) compared to the initial BMI measured at the beginning of the study was higher than in people who did not drink such beverages. BMI increased on average by 1.01 kg / m2 in the group without consumption of sweeteners and by 1.78 kg / m2 in the group consuming sweeteners.
In the 1980s, the American Cancer Society conducted an annual observation of a group of 78 694 women of similar age, ethnicity and material status. It has been shown that in women who regularly consume artificial sweeteners, body mass increased by an average of 7.1 percent, and in women who did not use sweeteners – by 2.7 percent.
In 2006, a study conducted for 10 years on 2371 girls was published. At the beginning of the study, they were 9 years old. It has been shown that drinking carbonated beverages, both sweetened with sugar and artificial sweeteners, is associated with an increase in daily calorie intake.
A study lasting 25 years and published in 2005 showed that drinking beverages with artificial sweeteners increases the risk of overweight more than drinking sugared drinks. The group consuming sweeteners was 65 percent more vulnerable to overweight and 41 percent to obesity.
The analysis carried out by researchers from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, covering the results of research from 1999-2010, showed that overweight people who drink beverages with sweeteners consume similar amounts of calories to people who are overweight and who drink beverages sweetened with sugar. This means that the group consuming sweeteners eats more solid food, both in the form of meals and snacks.

How do artificial sweeteners affect your appetite?

It turns out that sweetness does not exist without consequences. With the growing popularity of artificial sweeteners, the belief that it is the perfect replacement for sugar spreads – makes it possible to experience the pleasure of sweet taste without calories, which are inherent in sugar. Many years of research have shown, however, that sweeteners have a strong impact on the body. Artificial sweeteners, which in large quantities are found especially in fizzy drinks, are responsible for the stronger activation of the reward center in the brain than sugar. This is dangerous for the control of energy consumption, because one of the mechanisms affecting the amount of food consumed is the operation of the reward center. This center is stimulated by the sweet taste of food, and then reacts to the energy supply appearing in the body. In the case of sweeteners, the sensors in the brain are activated, but energy does not appear, which stimulates us to continue eating. The measure of energy consumption and control of appetite is thus disturbed by sweeteners.

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Artificial sweeteners more strongly activate the reward center in the brain than sugar.

Research has shown that the consumption of sweet-tasting foods affects the appetite, regardless of whether the taste comes from sugar or sweetener. Aspartame-sweetened water induced an increased subjective feeling of appetite in healthy adult males, and – in contrast to water with glucose and clean water – increased hunger. Previous administration of glucose reduced the pleasure of sucrose consumption. Such a phenomenon was not observed with prior administration of aspartame. Another study on artificial sweeteners showed that consumption of sweeteners resulted in an increased motivation to eat and to mark more products on the list of preferred foods.

The phenomenon was tried to explain in a rat study. The animal model can be even more accurate because it excludes subjective evaluation and voluntary control of the diet, i.e. important factors related to human research. An animal study showed that saccharin-fed rats were characterized by higher intake of calories and body fat than those fed with glucose. In addition, the sweet meal with saccharin given before the main course did not reduce the consumption of this dish. This shows that the lack of calories associated with sweet taste can cause compensatory overeating and lead to a positive energy balance.


Epidemiological studies show the effect of artificial sweeteners on weight gain, and not, as might be expected, on its decline. Also, animal studies on appetite control show that artificial sweeteners do not remain indifferent to the body’s functioning and can interfere with metabolic processes and signals associated with hunger and satiety.


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Posted on: January 9, 2019

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