When it comes to weight loss, we adhere to the general principle of keeping our intake of calories lower than our output. But not all calories are equal, so calorie-counting, or looking at calories purely in a mathematical sense, may actually backfire. If you’re cutting down your calorie intake by choosing low-calorie processed foods, then you might be getting more than what you bargained for.
Most low-calorie and low-fat processed foods contain more artificial sweeteners and flavouring to make up for the lack of taste from cutting out the fat. They may also substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners to lower their total calorie count since artificial sweeteners contain close to zero or no calories.
Here’s what really happens when you consume low-calorie processed foods.
1. It changes the way we taste food
Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar. Aspartame (Equal) is 180 times sweeter than sugar. That’s why people who frequently consume artificially flavoured food will find naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing.
Artificial sweeteners disrupt the way our brains register sugar. It changes our reaction to sugar, making us think that real sugar is not sweet enough. Hence, you will keep seeking more sugar to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
2. Your body responds by storing more fat
Whenever we consume sugar or artificial sweeteners, our taste buds signal to our body to produce insulin. Insulin helps to break down sugar either to provide energy or be stored as fat. The constant consumption of sweet food results in the overproduction of insulin, which triggers the body to store more fat. Even if artificial sweeteners themselves contain little or no calories, your body still responds to the sweetness, thus storing more and more the food you eat as fat. That’s why you’ll find yourself gaining weight even when you’re eating low-calorie food.
3. We trick our taste buds, but not our brains
Our brain’s response to artificial sweeteners is far more complex. It can differentiate between real sugar and artificial sweeteners. Real sugar triggers the reward circuits in our brain. However, artificial sweeteners don’t excite or satisfy our brain the same way sugar does, so you end up craving for more sweet and sugary food.
Whether for weight loss or general health, you’re better off avoiding artificially sweetened foods and sticking to a balanced diet of whole foods instead. Whole foods contain important nutrients and fibre that help you feel satiated and less likely to overeat.
As you attune your taste buds to natural food, you’ll find your reliance on sugar gradually wane. Of course, it’s okay to have an occasional sweet treat! In fact, savour and enjoy every moment of it!