Sweet & Sour

ARTIFICIAL sweeteners have long been touted as being good for the calorie-conscious. Unfortunately, a study just published in Behavioral Neuroscience by Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson of Purdue University in Indiana suggests that such compounds may actually end up making people fatter than they otherwise would be.

And how can this be, pray tell?

The cause, Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson think, is a disruption in the connection that the brain makes between sweetness and calories. Past research suggests that the brain thinks that sweetness is a sign of highly calorific food. Dr Swithers and Dr Davidson argue that artificial sweeteners confuse things. After repeated exposure to sweeteners, the brain forgets the connection and thus fails to stop the animal eating at an appropriate point...

It therefore looks possible that low-calorie artificial sweeteners are a contributory factor to the rising number of people who are obese. What an irony.

I like the results of this study because it serves as a nice reminder of how ignorant humanity can be, and how unintended consequences are endemic to the activity of tampering with complex systems. Most of all, I like it because it gives evidence that good ol' fashioned Aristotelian moderation is probably the better strategy for good health rather than following the well-marketed guidelines of the latest celebrity doctor.

Alternatively, one might content oneself with a more Platonic philosophy, which maintains that "attention to health is life's greatest hindrance."