Fat Substitutes Linked to Weight Gain

Drop the potato chip! Indulging in low-calorie snacks made with synthetic fat substitutes could actually pack on the pounds, according to new research.

The study was conducted by researchers at Purdue University and published bin the American Psychological Association’s journal Behavioral Neuroscience. Susan E. Swithers, PhD, the study’s lead researcher said:

“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.”

The researchers studied rats who had been fed either regular potato chips that were high in fat and calories, or “light” potato chips made with olestra, a synthetic fat substitute that has zero calories and passes through the body undigested.

Rats on a high-fat diet that included both type of potato chips ate more food, gained more weight, and developed more fatty tissue than the rats that ate only the high-calorie potato chips. After the potato chips were taken out of their diet, the fattened-up rats did not lose the weight they had gained.

The rats that were fed a low-fat diet didn’t experience much of a weight gain from either kind of potato chip. But when those same rats were switched to a high-fat diet, the rats that had eaten both types of potato chips ate more food and gained more weight and body fat than the rats that had eaten only the high-calorie chips.

“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,” said Swithers. She went on to explain that it is difficult to extrapolate laboratory findings about rats to people, even though their biological responses to food are similar.

It turns out that taste also plays a part in our body’s response to fat substitutes. Food with a sweet or fatty taste usually indicates a large number of calories, and the taste triggers various responses by the body, including salivation, hormonal secretions, and metabolic reactions. Fat substitutes can interfere with that relationship when the body expects to receive a large burst of calories but is fooled by a fat substitute.

The study was conducted by Swithers along with Purdue psychology professor Terry L. Davidson, PhD, and former Purdue undergraduate student Sean Ogden.

Swithers and Davidson previously reported similar findings that showed saccharin and other artificial sweeteners also can promote weight gain and increase body fat. Interestingly, while the use of artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, so have obesity levels.

According to study authors, consuming food that is naturally low in fat and calories is the way to go. Now that sounds like a bit of common sense that we should have known all along.

Image credit: istockphoto.com

Source: American Psychological Association

Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


Ximena Jaramillo
Ximena Jaramillo5 years ago


Nimue Pendragon

To the person who said "what an amazing photo of fat cells": it's photo of potato chips, not fat cells :)

Nimue Pendragon

Stop vivisection!

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

good to know

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


Suzanne L.
Suzanne L5 years ago

I learned many years ago about the fake fats and fake sugars. I never use either.

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen5 years ago

Thank you :)

MarilynBusy ForCharities
5 years ago

The only thing not linked to weight gain is MODERATION and the common sense to know not to eat when you're not hungry.

Eat the sensible natural foods in moderation and use common sense, exercise, and some will power so weight is not an issue.

Nina Anghel
Nina Anghel6 years ago

wonderful article.

Molly S.
Molly S6 years ago

No surprise, people were meant to eat real food and the body goes haywire when given crap.