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‘Diet’ Foods Can Lead to Weight Gain & Brain Inflammation

‘Diet’ foods loaded with sugar might be leading to weight gain, suggests a new study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior. The negative consequences may also include brain and gut inflammation.

Obesity remains an epidemic in our contemporary world. The blame is usually placed on the consumption of high-fat foods. However, they are not the only culprit. Food products that are described as being healthy, or at least, less unhealthy, are also contributing to the unwanted weight gain—sugar-loaded ‘diet’ foods are the main focus of the new research.

A team of scientists from the University of Georgia have shown that these diet foods have the potential of doing the opposite of what their effects are thought to be. The experiments conducted entailed rats exposed to a low-fat, but rich-in-sugar diet, which was to mimic the common diet foods. The results show that the body fat mass of these rats increased as opposed to another group of rats which were fed a balanced rodent diet.

Further findings reveal that the former diet brought other complications as well, namely liver damage, and brain inflammation.

It is to be noted that the calorie intake of the rats on the sugar-rich, low-fat diet was not significantly greater than the rats from the other group. In spite of no great difference in number of calories, the rats of the first group experienced weight gain and other unwanted effects—a troubling situation, says study lead author, Krzysztof Czaja, from UGA.

Czaja and his colleagues also found that the efficiency of producing body fat is over two times more in rats of the first diet type: these rats would require less than 50% of the calories to have the same amount of body fat.

It appears that the majority of the “so-called diet products” compensate for their low-fat or absence thereof with increased quantities of sugar. They are “camouflaged under fancy names”, says Czaja. So, while these food items are sold as being healthy, they are, apparently, detrimental to organs like the liver, and they contribute to obesity.

Also, the low-fat, high-sugar rats displayed a significant accumulation of fat in their livers. This is deemed extremely dangerous as livers of this condition are similar to those affected by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This illness, if it develops into its more severe forms, can lead to liver damage that is tantamount to what happens through heavy alcohol consumption.

The unbalanced diet also triggered chronic inflammation in both the brain and the intestines. Czaja mentions previous findings of his that show how brain inflammation can modify interactions between the brain and the gut, such that the brain can no longer judge when one is full—an effect that appears to be long-lasting, says Czaja. The latter also mentions his doubts as to whether this negative effect is reversible with a balanced diet.

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