Consuming artificial sweeteners as an alternative to sugar can boost appetites, causing us to eat more, according to recent studies. It has been suggested in the past that both animals and humans feel hungrier when eating sweeteners in place of sugar. Now, a comprehensive study by researchers at the University of Sydney has got to the bottom of why this happens.

According to these findings, fruit flies that were put on a diet filled with artificial sweeteners for a period of five days or more consumed, on average, 30 percent more calories than fruit flies that were fed a diet of natural sugar. The same results were found when tested on mice.

The results, which have been published in the medical journal, Cell Metabolism, suggest that the combination of a sweet taste but fewer calories can confuse the body and greatly increase appetite. This confusion activates the hunger response in the body and is responsible for the higher appetite found in the test animals.


What are artificial sweeteners?

The term ‘sweetener’ can be applied to any one of a wide selection of synthetic sugar substitutes usually added to food and drinks. Some of the most common examples include Saccharin, Sucralose, Acesulfame, and Aspartame.

Sweeteners are regularly used as an alternative to sugar in sweet foods targeted towards dieters with slogans such as ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’, due to the fact that they are just as sweet as sugar but have virtually no calories. As well as being found in processed foods such as chocolate, sweets, cakes and fizzy drinks, sweeteners are often used at home, for baking and hot drinks.


Advantages of sweeteners

Several nutritionists in the UK have argued that the recent results do not necessarily mean that sweeteners have appetite-inducing effects on humans. Instead, nutritionists argue that sweeteners have many benefits, particularly for weight and dental issues.

Artificial sweeteners have very few calories, as opposed to sugar, which has a famously high amount. For this reason, many nutritionists suggest sweeteners as an alternative to sugar for anyone who is trying to lose weight. In addition to this, sweeteners have very little to no effect on blood sugar levels.


Sweeteners – are they a health myth?

One of the main reasons why more and more people are choosing to cut sweeteners from their diet is because of the heavy use of chemicals and synthetic substances in them. Many consumers do not feel happy eating sweeteners which have been produced in a laboratory.

Increased appetite is not the only disadvantage which has been linked to sweeteners. Some claims have even been made suggesting that there are correlations between sugar alternatives and cancer. Studies on laboratory rats have suggested that artificial sweeteners can increase the risks of cancer. The National Cancer Institute and Cancer Reasearch UK, however, have both strongly denied this connection.


More research needed

It is currently unclear exactly how relevant the results of this research are to humans. The scientists behind the study have stated that a lot more work on humans is required before they can be certain that artificial sweeteners increase appetite in people like they do in animals.