This Is Your Rat on Saccharin

Last month the Grinder, as part of its exhaustive reporting on the problems of lab rat obesity, wrote up a study that found that rats given saccharin-sweetened yogurt gained more weight than rats that ate yogurt with sugar. It was a fascinating finding, suggesting that faux-sugar can kick-start the body’s metabolism in a way that leads to overeating. And now the Los Angeles Times is back with an in-depth look at what it all means for its nonrodent readers. Like rats on Sweet’N Low, we couldn’t resist it.

As always, the answer is: We don’t know much. The study’s authors say that “by interfering with what sweet taste means, artificial sweeteners upset an ancient physiological system that evolved to regulate food intake and energy use.” But other scientists point to a few human-based studies in which artificial sweeteners did not lead to weight gain. Those studies aren’t definitive, though—they’re too small and too short. Recent long-term studies have positively correlated diet soda and metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. But that could be correlation, not causation, of course.

It’s all tremendously complicated, and if you’ve read Michael Pollan’s new book on nutrition, you’ll know that this debate won’t be answered anytime soon. Nevertheless, if I had a rat around the house, I think I’d switch to milk.

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