Purdue University LogoObesity is slowly but surely turning out to be a global epidemic with a large number of people seeking ways to shed those kilos. An interesting research by scientists from Purdue University brings to light that synthetic fat substitutes in low-calorie foods could be linked to obesity and weight gain. The results of the investigation appear surprising as conventionally foods with fat substitutes have always been assumed to be related to weight loss.

Laboratory rats fed a diet of chow either high or low in fat were used for this analysis. About half of the rats in each group were also given Pringles potato chip known to be high in fat and calories. High-calorie Pringles chips on a couple of days and low-calorie Pringles Light chips on other days were fed to the remaining rats in every group.

“Our research showed that fat substitutes can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate food intake, which can lead to inefficient use of calories and weight gain,” mentioned Susan E. Swithers, PhD, the lead researcher and a Purdue psychology professor.

Pringles Light chips are made from the synthetic fat substitute olestra supposedly having zero calories, moving through the body undigested. Among rats on the high-fat diet, the group that consumed both kind of potato chips ate were found to eat more food, gain more weight and form more fatty tissue. This was in comparison to the rats that consumed just the high-calorie chips. Even when the potato chips were eliminated from their diet, the fat rats didn’t appear to shed the additional weight.

“Based on this data, a diet that is low in fat and calories might be a better strategy for weight loss than using fat substitutes,” Swithers added.

Extrapolating laboratory findings about rats to people may be a little difficult according to the researcher, despite their biological responses to food being similar. Purdue psychology professor Terry L. Davidson, PhD, and former Purdue undergraduate student Sean Ogden were also involved in the investigation along with Swithers.

The scientists suggest that a fat substitute may be confusing the body with those of sweet or fatty tasting foods. The relationship could be affected when the fat substitute interferes with it as the body may be anticipating a huge burst of calories but is instead tricked by a fat substitute. Nevertheless for diets naturally low in fat, there’s good news. Rats fed a low-fat diet didn’t seem to significantly gain weight from either kind of potato chips. Switching the same rats however to a high-fat diet made them consume both kinds of chips and hence the weight gain.

Similar findings are said to have been reported by Swithers and Davidson in earlier rat studies that revealed saccharin and other artificial sweeteners to encourage obesity. Over the past 30 years, using artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes has seemingly augmented, reflecting more Americans on their path to obesity. Sticking to foods naturally low in calories instead of those that artificially lower calories seems to be a better idea for dieters looking at dropping a size or two.

The study is published online the APA journal, Behavioral Neuroscience.