Carbonation Alters Our Brain’s Sugar Radar: Cause for Concern?

As much as humans love good-tasting tamales and ribs, we also love food that detonates in our mouth with an explosive crunch, crackle or carbonated fizz.

Now, some scientists have poked their noses into the workings of carbonation and discovered it changes our brain’s perception of sweetness. Carbonation makes it problematic for our brain to discern the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar.

Is this a problem? As with many things, there is no definitive answer.

Accentuating the Positive

The positive point of this research is that people who need to watch calories will choose diet drinks because they taste as good as the sugared ones.

“This study proves that the right combination of carbonation and artificial sweeteners can leave the sweet taste of diet drinks indistinguishable from normal drinks,” said the Rosario Cuomo, the study’s author.

“Tricking the brain about the type of sweet could be advantageous to weight loss — it facilitates the consumption of low-calorie drinks because their taste is perceived as pleasant as the sugary, calorie-laden drink.”

Accentuating the Possible Negative

This study also identifies a problem. Carbonation causes the brain to pick up on fewer sweetness-related signals no matter what type of sweetener is used. However, the effect of carbonation on sucrose (sugar) is stronger than it is with artificial sweeteners.

  1. The brain's reduced perception of sweetness from sugar could cause an increase in sugar consumption among regular soda drinkers.
  2. For diet soda drinkers, the brain’s altered sweetness perception could upset the body’s sense of energy maintenance and balance, stimulating a person to increase their intake of sugar and food. This could explain the rash of metabolic diseases, eating disorders and obesity among diet soda drinkers.

Our sense of taste combined with the scrumptious sight and smell of fantastic food and drink causes physiological changes throughout our body. Digestive hormones, enzymes and other gustatory molecules in our stomach and intestines get excited and stimulate our appetite.

This is true when our brain is correctly assessing the sweetness of what we are consuming, and also true if our brain’s perception is being skewed by the effects of carbonation. If perception is skewed, it could negatively impact our eating habits.

Something To Consider

The results of one research study do not indicate a great universal truth has been found. Our human perceptions can also be distorted by taking life apart and focusing on its pieces.

Yet, it is wise that individuals dealing with the issue of obesity, managing an illness such as diabetes, or those concerned about maintaining their family’s health, stay informed about findings in nutritional research and consider the implications.

Carbonation: A Second Opinion

It seems highly unfair that simply adding some carbon dioxide to a sweet liquid creates a tantalizingly pleasant effervescence that many of us enjoy and even learn to crave. However, not all doctors and nutritionists find carbonation to be a health concern.

“There are no known negative effects of carbonation on the digestive system, and some studies have found that it helps relieve indigestion and constipation," said Andrew Weil, M.D. "While I’m concerned about the unhealthy amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeine found in sodas, I have no concerns about the carbonation itself."

Sources: AGA Journals, Science Daily, Dr. Weil

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