A new study funded by a chewing gum manufacturer suggests that its brand of sugar-free gum might reduce calorie intake in some people.
The study, presented at the Experimental Biology 2009 meeting in New Orleans, was reported over the weekend by some media outlets with little context. Yet like all heath-related studies, this one should not be considered in isolation nor should it spur a new diet strategy.
In the study, 115 men and women came in for two sessions. In each session, they had a sandwich, and then hung around three hours and participated in a survey about their hunger and energy levels. They each chewed Extra sugar-free gum for 15 minutes hourly for three hours during one session but not the other session.
In the surveys, the chewers reported decreased feelings of hunger and cravings for something sweet, and also reported feeling more energetic and less drowsy, the researchers said in a statement. After the three-hour period, the participants were presented with a variety of snacks they could eat at will. The gum chewers consumed 40 fewer snack calories and 60 fewer sweet snack calories.
"This research supports the role of chewing gum as an easy, practical tool for managing snack, especially sweet snack, intake and cravings," said lead researcher Paula J. Geiselman, chief of women's health and eating behavior at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Louisiana State University.
The study was funded by Wrigley, maker of Extra gum.
The rest of the story
However, even sugar-free chewing gum is not without potential side effects. And clearly much more research is needed on the multitude of potential effects associated with artificial sweeteners.
Sorbitol, the sweetener used in Extra and some other gums, is a laxative, for example.
A study last year, detailed in the British Medical Journal, found that excess sorbitol can cause chronic diarrhea, other stomach problems, and unintended weight loss. That study — incredibly small, it should be noted — involved a detailed analysis of two patients who consumed more than 18 grams a day of sorbitol by chewing gum and eating other artificial sweets. (One stick of chewing gum contains about 1.25g sorbitol.) After both patients started a sorbitol-free diet, diarrhea subsided and they gained their weight back.
Beyond chewing gum, the case for artificial sweeteners gets very sticky, and different sweeteners may have different effects.
A study on rats last year, reported in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, suggested that ingesting the artificial sweetener saccharin confuses the body's ability to regulate food intake, and may actually cause weight gain for some. In short, the artificial sweetener might trigger the expectation of real food to come, so the body coaxes a person to then eat more, concluded Purdue University researchers Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson.
"The data clearly indicate that consuming a food sweetened with no-calorie saccharin can lead to greater body-weight gain and adiposity than would consuming the same food sweetened with a higher-calorie sugar," the researchers wrote.
Lots of tips, few strategies
Back to chewing gum as a weight-loss technique: There are myriad ways to cut calories and trim that waistline.
Another study out today — this one supported by the egg industry — suggests that eating eggs for breakfast can help you "manage hunger while reducing calorie consumption throughout the day." Men who ate eggs rather than bagels consumed fewer calories the rest of the day, perhaps owing to the satiating role of protein, the thinking goes.
This work, also presented at the Experimental Biology meeting, is yet another that may have some merit but which should not by itself spur a diet strategy. Eggs also contain lots of cholesterol, and the FDA still suggests you limit egg yolk intake to no more than four per week.
Most experts agree the best approach to a healthy you involves eating a variety of good foods in moderation, avoiding soda, sweets and other junk food, and regular exercise.
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Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.
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Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.