3

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Sugar substitute and weight gain - myth?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created June 21, 2011 at 6:50 PM

I've heard a lot of back and forth on this idea that sugar substitutes cause weight gain. One related to the Perdue study with rats suggests that the body tastes "sweet" and thinks its going to get some calories via sugar/carbohydrate, doesn't, then craves more carbohydrate. http://www.pnas.org/content/104/38/15069

I found a reference to a study that suggests just tasting "sweet" doesn't cause insulin secretion in humans, so I'm curious about the cravings. http://ajpgi.physiology.org/content/296/4/G735

Anyone have some more info on this? Most of what I find online are the usual recommendations to use substitutes because sugar promotes weight gain.

Thanks

263e2d3f741d1ecb0886454e977f4e6f

(206)

on June 23, 2011
at 12:54 AM

Thanks CaveRat, I need to get my pictures up to the Before and After thread. I'm glad I bought that Withings scale a week before going paleo!

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 05:04 PM

Yes, very "in" these days. To me he seems like the least biased blogger out there.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 04:58 PM

Yeah, same thing happened to me. I remember after getting over the "carb flu" I held and smelled a Reese's peanut butter cup and had no desire to eat it... I used to eat those things like popcorn at a movie, one after the other, no stopping. Dark chocolate is plenty sweet for me now also.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 04:55 PM

The study I linked to even argues that sugar substitutes don't raise insulin levels in humans.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:46 PM

btw - 157lbs? That's amazing - fantastic job!

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:42 PM

I saw a discussion of this on the Seth Roberts ('Shangri-La Diet') forums. It's possible you drank that Coke *apart* (not at same time) from high calorie-containing foods? According to them, this would decouple the insulin from that particular sweet flavor. People who would junk out *at the same time* probably would *gain* weight because the sweet would continue to spur insulin.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:37 PM

Interesting - I'll 'digest' that one first... I saw a paper recently that identified certain dopamine receptors in the brain that were associated with the insulin process - with implications for the addictive aspect of the glucose/insulin cycle.

792634a784ec6a636c3137d0903e11b4

(1196)

on June 22, 2011
at 05:44 AM

I was really bugged by this, and looked it up a while back. It's called CPIR Cephalic Phase Insulin Release http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/5/1030.short There's a connection between low levels of pre-ingestion insulin release and post-meal blood sugar control. Interesting, but not compelling by any means. I saved the best paper, but it's at work. If anyone wants it, I'm happy to email it.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 21, 2011
at 11:10 PM

@Jimbo, I'll check it out. I hear Guyenet's work is very similar and also very "in" these days. It's consistent with why certain sweeteners taste really yummy - at first. Then over time (assuming there are no actual sugars are involved) they lose their magic (think Stevia).

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:27 PM

Well, the glucose meter tells you about your blood sugar, but not about your circulating insulin levels. If you're LC/VLC/ZC, you won't know whether your glucose is low because it's, well, *low* from not eating sugar, or if it's low because of an insulin response. What we really need is a home insulin test.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:14 PM

Wow, that is an interesting idea. I read something from Stephen Guyenet about food reward that compared different flavors of the "meal replacement" Ensure. The rats overate the chocolate variety and gained weight, but not the vanilla or strawberry. I'm curious if it jives with the study I linked, comparing sucrose and sucralose... I suppose if the study involved flavored sources of food we'd know more. Here's Guyenet's article: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/04/food-reward-dominant-factor-in-obesity.html

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:13 PM

They key thing is that the "looking" is often - or at least often enough - followed by "consuming". If not that particular food some other treat pretty soon after. Even the occasional reinforcement conditions the body to keep it up. The way to break the cycle is to taste/smell the flavor but avoid any carb consumption for some period of time (I've read an hour or two). The body doesn't want to produce insulin if it doesn't need to, and will dampen the response over time. But cheat once and it'll keep back in very quickly.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:05 PM

I did the same when I fell victim to Weight Watchers about 6 years ago. Plenty of Splenda, lost 30Lbs... and as usual, gained 35Lbs later.

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on June 21, 2011
at 09:54 PM

"But to what degree is this causative and to what degree is it merely symptomatic of overweight people with a sweet tooth (and thus poor blood sugar control) being a key demographic for diet products?" Great comment!

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on June 21, 2011
at 09:01 PM

Yep. I ate a crap ton of Splenda while losing 100+ lbs.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 07:25 PM

"gain weight just by looking at a piece of cake" like the Pavlov dog. I'm curious about Wolf's response in light of that second study that argues there is no insulin secretion. But, I remember seeing foods and craving them, and I can see the relationship between insulin secretion and cravings.

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8 Answers

3
Fa9f340eddbad9a544184c688fa4dcdd

(6433)

on June 21, 2011
at 08:33 PM

I think that it's so hard to conclusively settle the artificial sweetener debate, as not only are they exercising potential physiological or even psychological effects, but it is difficult to disassociate their consumption in humans from specific demographics and behaviours.

For example, it???s true that studies show a correlation between artificial sweetener consumption and adiposity. But to what degree is this causative and to what degree is it merely symptomatic of overweight people with a sweet tooth (and thus poor blood sugar control) being a key demographic for diet products? Equally, it has been observed that people consuming diet products seem to compensate for the "missing" calories. But is this a conscious or even unaware behaviour ("I'll have the cheeseburger, extra large fries and diet coke") or a physiological reaction?

So, is it possible that for people without deranged metabolisms that so-called mindful consumption of artificial sweeteners is innocuous? Setting aside concerns about the safety of artificial sugar substitutes unrelated to weight gain/loss, really the only way to figure this out would be a little good old fashioned n=1 experimentation.

D67e7b481854b02110d5a5b21d6789b1

(4111)

on June 21, 2011
at 09:54 PM

"But to what degree is this causative and to what degree is it merely symptomatic of overweight people with a sweet tooth (and thus poor blood sugar control) being a key demographic for diet products?" Great comment!

2
Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 21, 2011
at 07:36 PM

My understanding is that if the body tastes flavors and scents associated with carbohydrates that the body will produce insulin in anticipation of the pending sugar rush. However, surprisingly, flavorless calories (sugar/carbs/fat) by itself is not sufficient to trigger insulin.

There's some fantastic discussion of this on the Seth Roberts forums for his 'Shangri-La Diet' (horrible name but the forums are very illuminating on the implications).

However if the flavor is NOT rewarded with a subsequent carb/sugar spike, then the body over time will uncouple that particular flavor from the insulin spike - some people on those forums have successfully used this to halt the addictive response to certain foods, by tasting but not swallowing a high-risk food (yes - spitting is required). I've wanted to try this one on oatmeal raisin cookies...

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 21, 2011
at 11:10 PM

@Jimbo, I'll check it out. I hear Guyenet's work is very similar and also very "in" these days. It's consistent with why certain sweeteners taste really yummy - at first. Then over time (assuming there are no actual sugars are involved) they lose their magic (think Stevia).

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 05:04 PM

Yes, very "in" these days. To me he seems like the least biased blogger out there.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:14 PM

Wow, that is an interesting idea. I read something from Stephen Guyenet about food reward that compared different flavors of the "meal replacement" Ensure. The rats overate the chocolate variety and gained weight, but not the vanilla or strawberry. I'm curious if it jives with the study I linked, comparing sucrose and sucralose... I suppose if the study involved flavored sources of food we'd know more. Here's Guyenet's article: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/04/food-reward-dominant-factor-in-obesity.html

1
263e2d3f741d1ecb0886454e977f4e6f

on June 21, 2011
at 07:26 PM

I see the logic behind this, I got hooked on Coke Zero while losing 157lbs. I won't say it is a myth, lets just say I think it depends on the person. For me it was my little cheat each day. That said I would drink 1 and no more than 2 of them a day. Perhaps if you are drinking a 6-pack a day it really might have the insulin releasing effect.

7e746be2f0e550a8cd7df881322ae705

(18701)

on June 21, 2011
at 09:01 PM

Yep. I ate a crap ton of Splenda while losing 100+ lbs.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:05 PM

I did the same when I fell victim to Weight Watchers about 6 years ago. Plenty of Splenda, lost 30Lbs... and as usual, gained 35Lbs later.

263e2d3f741d1ecb0886454e977f4e6f

(206)

on June 23, 2011
at 12:54 AM

Thanks CaveRat, I need to get my pictures up to the Before and After thread. I'm glad I bought that Withings scale a week before going paleo!

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:42 PM

I saw a discussion of this on the Seth Roberts ('Shangri-La Diet') forums. It's possible you drank that Coke *apart* (not at same time) from high calorie-containing foods? According to them, this would decouple the insulin from that particular sweet flavor. People who would junk out *at the same time* probably would *gain* weight because the sweet would continue to spur insulin.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:46 PM

btw - 157lbs? That's amazing - fantastic job!

1
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20888)

on June 21, 2011
at 07:00 PM

Robb Wolf calls this the "Food Porn" effect. Basically, tasting sweet (or sometimes looking at or thinking about sweets) is enough to tell your pancreas to start with the insulin. That is, it wants to get a little bit of a head start. Now I haven't actually found the studies on this or read anything about it, just what I know from what Robb's said. But if it is true (and I can understand that there would be some type of feed-forward mechanism to get the pancreas going before the sugar), then there may be a bit of truth when people say they can gain weight just by looking at a piece of cake.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:13 PM

They key thing is that the "looking" is often - or at least often enough - followed by "consuming". If not that particular food some other treat pretty soon after. Even the occasional reinforcement conditions the body to keep it up. The way to break the cycle is to taste/smell the flavor but avoid any carb consumption for some period of time (I've read an hour or two). The body doesn't want to produce insulin if it doesn't need to, and will dampen the response over time. But cheat once and it'll keep back in very quickly.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 21, 2011
at 07:25 PM

"gain weight just by looking at a piece of cake" like the Pavlov dog. I'm curious about Wolf's response in light of that second study that argues there is no insulin secretion. But, I remember seeing foods and craving them, and I can see the relationship between insulin secretion and cravings.

792634a784ec6a636c3137d0903e11b4

(1196)

on June 22, 2011
at 05:44 AM

I was really bugged by this, and looked it up a while back. It's called CPIR Cephalic Phase Insulin Release http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/5/1030.short There's a connection between low levels of pre-ingestion insulin release and post-meal blood sugar control. Interesting, but not compelling by any means. I saved the best paper, but it's at work. If anyone wants it, I'm happy to email it.

Fe29f6658ce67c1ecc4a22e960be7498

(2997)

on June 22, 2011
at 02:37 PM

Interesting - I'll 'digest' that one first... I saw a paper recently that identified certain dopamine receptors in the brain that were associated with the insulin process - with implications for the addictive aspect of the glucose/insulin cycle.

0
7bf306ada57db47547e9da39a415edf6

(11214)

on September 07, 2013
at 12:44 AM

I know a key turning point during my weight loss was when I gave up splenda in my coffee. After a week or two there was pizza at an event, and instead of looking at it as something tempting, I just thought of it as a flat round disc of poison. Grain based foods ceased to look good anymore. Now, there are definitely foods with sugar in them that still seem tempting, but they aren't quite as addictive, nor do I need as much sugar to feel satisfied if I do indulge. The over 70% dark chocolate bars taste good to me, while my friends who are still splenda eaters think they taste bitter.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 04:58 PM

Yeah, same thing happened to me. I remember after getting over the "carb flu" I held and smelled a Reese's peanut butter cup and had no desire to eat it... I used to eat those things like popcorn at a movie, one after the other, no stopping. Dark chocolate is plenty sweet for me now also.

0
6a0f15fbbfed36fe7a24a00c5e868f58

on June 21, 2011
at 10:08 PM

I'm not sure about the science behind it, but I've been eating Paleo foods for a few months now and have been noticing that I am generally losing a few ounces a day, but for about a week, for some odd reason, I decided to have 1-2 diet sodas (aspartame sweetened) a day and did NOT lose any weight on those days. I cut them out and went back to my slow weight decline. I do not have this response with PureVia or Stevia in the Raw though, so for me those sweeteners are OK.

0
A7ac68389a10bc99f33885e7ed0dbfe0

on June 21, 2011
at 09:35 PM

I don't think that I buy into what Wolf or the rest of them are saying because I figure there is no need for any studies, ect. Isn't it as simple as running down to the local pharmacy, buying a glucose meter that diabetics use to test their insulin, and then drink one of these things and then test yourself?

I have a friend who is a Type I diabetic and he uses the artificial sweeteners because they don't effect his glucose levels so he doesn't have to use insulin.

I get that you don't want to put all those unnatural chemicals into your body and what-not, and we really don't know the total effect these chemicals have on our systems, but as far as raising insulin, I don't think I buy it.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on June 21, 2011
at 10:27 PM

Well, the glucose meter tells you about your blood sugar, but not about your circulating insulin levels. If you're LC/VLC/ZC, you won't know whether your glucose is low because it's, well, *low* from not eating sugar, or if it's low because of an insulin response. What we really need is a home insulin test.

3a833804187fe8926214e6c0bd8a0766

(1023)

on June 22, 2011
at 04:55 PM

The study I linked to even argues that sugar substitutes don't raise insulin levels in humans.

0
0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on June 21, 2011
at 08:02 PM

Purdue did a recent study about fake fats like Olestra causing weight gain. They claim that the sense of sweet or "fat" can cause the body's calorie regulation systems to get all screwy. I think the same goes for fake sugars. Read it here.

Why would a fat substitute confuse the body? Food with a sweet or fatty taste usually indicates a large number of calories, and the taste triggers various responses by the body, including salivation, hormonal secretions and metabolic reactions. Fat substitutes can interfere with that relationship when the body expects to receive a large burst of calories but is fooled by a fat substitute.

also:

Swithers and Davidson have reported similar findings in previous rat studies that showed saccharin and other artificial sweeteners also can promote weight gain and increased body fat. The use of artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, mirroring the increase in obesity in America. Dieters have turned to these artificial means to lower calories while still eating foods that taste sweet or fatty. So what is a dieter supposed to do to drop a size?

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