We’d all like to be a little slimmer right? But looking like Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars takes lots of work, and food is just so darned delicious.
Plus, we can’t help but love sweet stuff. As soon as we start chewing that delicious double chocolate brownie our brain starts releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel really good. In fact, the reason cocaine is so addictive is because it intensifies the effects if dopamine, making us feel really REALLY good. So sugar is kind of like weak brain cocaine, and we can’t help but crave it.
So sugar = happy. But sugar also = calories and calories = bingo wings.
Luckily for us there’s an easy way to cut out a bundle of calories without having to give up our sugar high – artificial sweeteners. These magical wonder powders promise a delightfully sweet flavour, with none of the guilt. One of the most common artificial sweeteners is Aspartame, which is used in lots of ‘diet’ drinks like Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sprite Zero, Fanta Zero, Diet Pepsi, 7up Free and Ribena Really Light, just to name a few. But is this mystical sugar free sugar as beneficial to our beer bellies as it’s made out to be? Possibly not.
Artificial sweeteners make you so so hungry
Just last July Susan Swithers, a professor of behavioral neuroscience from Purdue University, was published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. In her article, Swithers said that people who love their diet soft drinks are way more likely to get chubby than their soda avoiding counterparts.
But diet soft drinks have no calories, so how can they possibly make you fat?
Well, when you taste something sweet your brain tells your body that lots of calories are on the way. Then, when you swallow those sugary calories your body reacts by releasing dopamine (brain cocaine) and hormones that make you feel full. This two part system is your body’s own way of avoiding the dreaded muffin top by getting rid of the extra energy sensibly and stopping you from eating more.
But the artificial sweeteners in diet soft drinks mess with this system. Diet Coke tastes deliciously sweet, which warns our body about the incoming calorie wave, but those calories never come. This means the second part of the system isn’t triggered and those all-important fullness hormones aren’t released. So your body keeps wanting more food, even though it doesn’t need it. Essentially your tastebuds have cried wolf, and eventually your body stops listening.
So even though choosing Diet Coke saved you 132 calories, it cost you 402 calories because of that entire packet of rice crackers you ate afterwards.
The idea that artificial sweeteners mess with our body’s natural ability to regulate energy intake has been supported by many studies on the humble lab rat. In 2013 a study was published in the journal Appetite where rats which ate artificially sweetened yogurt before their meal of rat chow consumed just as many calories as those which ate sugar sweetened yoghurt. This is because even though the rats had less calories in their artificially sweetened yoghurt, they ended up eating more chow afterwards than the real sugar rats.
Artificial Sweeteners might even make you diabetic
It gets worse!
An earlier 2008 study in Appetite found that diet sodas have the same effect as regular full sugar soft drinks on our insulin levels. This isn’t good news for Diet Coke fans.
When we eat sugar our body produces insulin to take the sugar out of our blood and into our organs where it can be turned into energy. But if we eat too much sugar our body becomes less sensitive to insulin. This is just like when you drink lots of alcohol and your body becomes less sensitive to it, meaning you can drink more next time and not get as drunk. But while being able to smash back 12 glasses of strawberry daiquiri might earn you brownie points with your teammates at the bar, insulin sensitivity is nowhere near as glamorous. Ultimately, if our body doesn’t respond to insulin it has trouble digesting the sugars, meaning we gain weight. Eek.
Not only that, but insulin sensitivity ultimately leads to Type 2 diabetes, which is nobody’s cup of tea.
So next time you’re stopping off at Maccas for your weekly Hunger Buster, feeling proud of yourself for choosing the ‘healthy option’ and going for a Diet Coke, you might want to stop and think about how healthy that delicious synthetic brain cocaine really is.