Research from Yale University in the US suggests that diet foods and drinks could actually cause diabetes.
Further, the evidence shows that these foods could also cause people to gain weight, because of a problem the brain has with reading the calories present.
Artificial ingredients blamed
If there is a mismatch in the sweetness of the food and the calories that it contains, the brain can be confused into reducing the metabolism. This means that the body won’t be burning energy from food any longer.
Sweetness is a signal for energy in natural foods, and the sweeter the food is, the more calories the body can take from it. This means that our brains expect sweetness to go along with calories. When they don’t, the brain starts to think that there are even fewer calories to burn.
Previous food science studies have found that artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar levels as well as triggering diabetes. Scientists now believe that they have found the reason behind this phenomenon.
“This research should be enough to convince you that artificial ingredients, whether they be in food or drink, can screw up your system,” says Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum.
“A calorie is not a calorie,” said senior author Dana Small, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. “The assumption that more calories trigger greater metabolic and brain response is wrong. Calories are only half of the equation; sweet taste perception is the other half. Our bodies evolved to efficiently use the energy sources available in nature. Our modern food environment is characterized by energy sources our bodies have never seen before. When sweet taste and energy are not matched less energy is metabolized and weaker, or inaccurate, signals are sent to the brain. Either one of these effects may affect metabolic health.”
Study process and findings
15 participants had their brains scanned as part of the new study. This was done when they were drinking regular drinks, and then when they were drinking diet drinks. They monitored how much energy was being burned in the body at the same time in order to compare the results.
They found that the calories in the diet drinks failed to trigger the body’s metabolism, with reward circuits in the brain failing to register that calories had been consumed. This could lead to people eating more after consuming diet drinks or diet food.
“What the paper does imply, correctly in my view, is that mismatches between calories and sweetness interfere with metabolism of calories in a way that could have negative impact on weight gain, diabetes, heart disease etc. but that determining the link between the unprocessed calories and metabolic health needs future work,” said Dominic Dwyer, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University. “The most important implication is namely the fate of calories consumed in the mismatch conditions. These are not efficiently metabolised at the time of ingestion and thus processed later and/or stored either of which could drive weight gain and interfere with metabolism.”
What does this mean for those of us in food jobs? It could lead to a big change in the way that diet food is created. If it is not truly diet food, but instead food that makes people put on weight, then it evidently needs to be taken in a different direction.
The new wave of diet foods that we are already seeing includes items like noodles and pasta which contain an incredibly low amount of calories. Perhaps the diet food industry will be following this direction next, to replace the current issues.