A new study from the University of Sydney has confirmed your worst fear: Your diet soda habit can make you crave more calories, thanks to its use of artificial sweeteners. In a study conducted on fruit flies, the research sheds a much-needed light on the effects artificial sweeteners have on the brain—and strengthens the mounting case against the sugary substitute for humans, as well.
In the experiment, researchers fed one group of fruit flies food laced with Splenda, and the other group was fed food mixed with basic table sugar. The Splenda flies ended up consuming 30% more calories than the table sugar group, in an attempt to satiate the calorie cravings brought on by the artificial flavoring. Once the artificially sweetened food was removed, the effect diminished.
Upon analyzing the flies' nerve impulses after the experiment, the scientists found that the reward centers associated with sweet flavors were linked with the expectation that calorie-rich foods are coming. When the artificially flavored food failed to deliver on its promise, the flies continued to eat other calorie-rich foods to get their fix. "Through systematic investigation of this effect, we found that inside the brain's reward centers, sweet sensation is integrated with energy content," said lead researcher Greg Neely. "When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases [the] total calories consumed."
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