Published by
Stanford Medicine

Myths, Nutrition, Obesity

The dark side of “light” snacks: study shows substitutes may contribute to weight gain

The dark side of "light" snacks: study shows substitutes may contribute to weight gain

Yet another get-thin-quick scheme has been debunked: A new study by Purdue University researchers shows that fake fats used in low-calorie snacks may actually contribute to weight gain.

Synthetic fat substitutes are the cornerstone of zero-calorie snack foods that market themselves as “diet” products. But when Purdue researchers put one group of mice on a high-fat diet and another group on a mixed diet containing both fatty products and products containing fat substitutes, they noticed that the mixed-diet mice gained more weight than the high-fat-diet mice. 

“But,” I cried, dejectedly stuffing a handful of chips into my face, “how can low-calorie foods cause weight gain?” The release explains:

Food with a sweet or fatty taste usually indicates a large number of calories, and the taste triggers various responses by the body, including salivation, hormonal secretions and metabolic reactions. Fat substitutes can interfere with that relationship when the body expects to receive a large burst of calories but is fooled by a fat substitute.

“Is there any good news?” I whimpered, wiping tears and crumbs off onto my sleeve. Certainly. Synthetic fat substitutes only seem to promote weight gain when consumed as part of a high-fat diet. Low-fat dieters, like some of the mice in Purdue’s study, are safe from fat substitutes’ greasy grasp:

The rats that were fed a low-fat diet didn’t experience significant weight gain from either type of potato chips. However, when those same rats were switched to a high-fat diet, the rats that had eaten both types of potato chips ate more food and gained more weight and body fat than the rats that had eaten only the high-calorie chips.

As always, easy-weight-loss solutions like fat substitutes and artificial sweeteners (which have also been linked to weight gain) can prove disappointing and even dangerous. Looks like healthy foods and exercise are still your best bet.

Photo by bamalibrarylady

Comment


Please read our comments policy before posting

Stanford Medicine Resources: