Artificial sweeteners may not be the solution to shedding pounds.
Weight loss scale
Credit: Lee Harrelson

Research psychologists at Purdue University report that rats given food sweetened with saccharin ate more, gained more weight, and stored more fat over time than the rats that were given regular sugar. "What the results suggest is that consuming artificially sweetened products by themselves may not in fact contribute to weight loss - and to the contrary, may sometimes lead to weight gain," says Dr. Susan Swithers, one of the authors of the study.

The researchers do not feel that the results are limited to saccharin alone but include all types of artificial sweeteners.

But how can this be? The researchers believe that when your body takes in something sweet, your metabolism "revs up" to start burning off the calories that should follow. But when the calories do NOT follow, as in the case of artificial sweeteners, your body gets confused. So the next time real sugar enters your system, your metabolic response just might not kick in like it should. This might explain why some of the heaviest consumers of artificial sweeteners are also some of the heaviest Americans.

ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard reports that another recent study which included more than 18,000 people found healthy adults who consumed at least one diet drink a day could increase their chance for weight gain. It is still unclear if any of these findings are limited to diet drinks alone or include the myriad of other products that are artificially sweetened.

We have to be careful not to exaggerate the findings of any one study, and more studies are planned to see if the metabolism change caused by artificial sweeteners can be reversed. Until then, rev it up with healthy food and consistent exercise, and limit how much artificially sweetened foods and beverages you consume on a regular basis.

Tammy Beasley, RD, CSSD, CEDRD is a registered, licensed dietitian, spinning instructor, and certified specialist in sports nutrition and eating disorders. She is the author of Rev It Up-The Lifestyle Diet That Puts You In The Driver's Seat.