Diet drinks and artificially sweetened treats are calorie free, but new research indicates that they’re fooling more than your mouth—and most likely messing with your metabolism. Scientists have discovered that the biological machinery that allows you to taste sweet with your tongue also exists in the gut, reports Science News (March 27, 2010).
In the mouth, sweet-taste receptors tell the brain to pump saliva, chew, and swallow. No problem there. In the gut, however, they “take this response to the next level, affirming that fuel is indeed incoming and setting off reactions to cope with it.” These reactions include releasing a surge of insulin, which encourages cells to drain glucose from blood and store it as energy in the muscles and liver. Artificial sweeteners trigger the same reactions, only there’s no energy for the body to harvest.
Scientists are still enthusiastically studying this whole body sense of taste, but the nascent discovery is likely to shed light on recent studies that established a seemingly perplexing association between drinking diet beverages and developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. As Science News concludes: “Perhaps that adage ‘Trust your gut’ should be accompanied with another edict: ‘Tell it no lies.’ ”