Walk down any supermarket aisle and you’ll find at least a few foods with the word diet emblazoned in bold letters across the label. They tend to be lower in fat, sugar, or calories, all the things we think are bad.
It’s a trap. The diet label doesn’t actually make the food healthier. In fact, you’ll find those diet products will make you fat faster than regular unhealthy foods will. Researchers from the University of Georgia examined a number of diet foods to determine just how diet-friendly they were. The majority of the diet foods they examined had a lower fat content, but the sugar content was significantly higher. After feeding the foods to rats, they found that the rats gained body mass rather than lost it. The high-sugar, low-fat diet led to brain inflammation, liver damage, and weight gain.
This may seem counterintuitive. How are diet foods going to cause you to gain weight? Simple: it’s all about the sugar. As the University of Georgia study found, the diet products were actually worse for your health than the normal foods. The researchers determined that because many diet products contain high amounts of sugar (often masked in the labeling), they increase the efficiency of accumulation of body and liver fat. They also found that sugar-rich diets change the gut microflora toward overpopulation of enterotoxic bacteria, damaging neural gut-brain communication and disrupting neural regulation of food intake.
The implications of these results on human health are very significant because they show that diets rich in sugar change the brain circuits responsible for food intake and satiety, inducing chronic inflammation and symptoms of non-alcoholic liver disease (NALD).
Until a few years ago, fat was believed to be public health enemy #1. Fat was blamed for obesity, heart attacks, diabetes, and a host of other disorders. Thankfully, hundreds of studies have proven that fat is actually good for your health. Your body needs it to produce cells, hormones, energy, and more. Fat (natural fat, not trans fats and hydrogenated oils) is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Eating more fat can lead to better weight loss and improved overall health.
Sugar, on the other hand, is never a good thing. A small amount of sugar (such as that in fruit) can help to produce energy. However, the amount of sugar added to diet foods is far more than is healthy, meaning there is a lot of excess glucose floating around in the bloodstream. Sugar is absorbed and turned into glucose and fat very quickly, meaning it’s going to cause weight gain much more quickly than fat ever could. If you ate 200 calories of fat and 200 calories of sugar, the sugar would end up producing more body fat than the fat ever would.
1.Tanusree Sen, Carolina R. Cawthon, Benjamin Thomas Ihde, Andras Hajnal, Patricia M. DiLorenzo, Claire B. de La Serre, Krzysztof Czaja. “Diet-driven microbiota dysbiosis is associated with vagal remodeling and obesity.” Physiology & Behavior, 2017; 173: 305.