While aspartame has long been marketed as a sweetener that curbs cravings and promotes weight loss, new research published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that it actually has the opposite effect. The bad news doesn’t stop there, either. According to the report, the artificial sweetener—which is found in countless diet drinks, protein bars, and sugar-free ice creams—can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
To come to this bitter finding, scientists fed two groups of rats a normal diet. However, one group received aspartame-spiked drinking water while the other group was given plain H20. They also studied two additional groups of rodents who were fed a high-fat diet. Again, half the animals received water with aspartame while the remaining rats consumed plain water. (Both groups of aspartame-sipping mice consumed the equivalent of two to three cans of diet soda.)
At the end of the study, there was a negligible difference in weight between the two groups of mice that were fed a normal diet. However, the rats fed the high-fat diet with aspartame gained twice as much weight as the mice that were fed the same diet sans aspartame. Another scary finding: All of the rodents that consumed aspartame—regardless of their diet—experienced a spike in their blood sugar levels and had increased levels of inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome.
So, what makes aspartame so dangerous? "[It] blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase that we previously showed can prevent obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome,” explains the study’s senior author, Richard Hodin, M.D. Yikes! That said, next time your sweet tooth kicks in, indulge in a small portion of your favorite dessert or reach for one of these 20 Healthy Desserts For Weight Loss instead of a diet alternative. And no matter what you’re eating, be sure to read food labels carefully. The artificial stuff is found in a ton of different unsuspecting foods!