Recently, aspartame has taken over the food market as a sugar substitute in diet foods and beverages. While it is most commonly used in diet sodas, aspartame can be found in over 6,000 food products such as gum, yogurt, and frozen deserts. Although this additive does reduce the amount of calories consumed, new research shows that aspartame may actually leave you feeling hungrier, ultimately leading to weight gain.
In this new animal study, researchers placed mice on a high-fat diet, with one group receiving regular water and another receiving aspartame sweetened water. Results showed that mice in the latter group gained more weight and had higher blood sugar than mice who did not consume aspartame.
This phenomenon may be explained by the amino acid phenylalanine, a breakdown product of aspartame. Phenylalanine inhibits intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP), a gut enzyme which has been associated with reducing symptoms of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Researchers believe that even though aspartame replaces and lowers the consumption of sugar, aspartame’s role in inhibiting IAP may counteract these beneficial aspects. As Dr. Richard Hodin explains, “People do not really understand why these artificial sweeteners don’t work. There has been some evidence that they actually can make you more hungry and may be associated with increased calorie consumption. Our findings regarding aspartame’s inhibition of IAP may help explain why the use of aspartame is counterproductive.”