When you drink a Diet Coke, how does your body perceive the artificial sweeteners in it? This is the question Allison Sylvetsky Meni has been trying to figure out. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, and focuses her research on the metabolic and health effects of low-calorie (artificial) sweeteners. Here are four projects she focuses on:
- A clinical study looking on the effect of diet soda on the gut microbiome. The consumption of artificial sweeteners is increasing rapidly, and many people consume them inadvertently, said Dr. Meni. She explained that they are metabolically active, meaning that they might affect hormone levels and blood glucose levels. The body responds to these artificial sweeteners even though they don’t have any calories in them. Dr. Meni is investigating how large this effect is, and what it means for human health. Recently, she published a paper showing increased insulin release and increased gut hormone secretion from diet soda consumption.
- The amount of artificial sweeteners people are ingesting. Consumption of artificial sweeteners increased drastically from 1999 to 2012. A recent study she led found that there was a 200 percent increase in consumption of low-calorie sweeteners for children and 54 percent increase for adults from 1999 to 2012. In this study, she saw a link between obesity and low calorie sweetener consumption. As BMI increased, so did the likelihood of consuming artificial sweeteners. This study is the first to look at the use of low-calorie sweeteners in foods, beverages, and packets using the most recent data for the U.S. population.
- Starting the nutrition science major for undergraduates. In Fall 2018, students will have the chance to start studying how nutrients and food components influence growth, metabolism, health, and disease as well as human behavior in relation to food choices. Dr. Meni is serving as the program director and created 5 new courses for the major. The program also aims to lay the groundwork for integrating nutrition science across disciplines and provides students with the foundation required to apply nutrition to the health sciences. If you are interested in learning more and applying to the major, check it out here.
- A sugar and sweetener seminar to bring together policy makers, regulatory officials, researchers and anyone else who’s interested in the topic of sugar. Dr. Meni envisions a cross-disciplinary discussion about ways to lower sugar consumption and bring together different perspectives to discuss the issues around sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stay tuned for more information in Spring 2018.
Dr. Meni stated that more research needs to be done to look into the long term effects of low calorie sweetener consumption. What she does know for sure though is reducing sugar consumption, both artificial and real, is beneficial for human health. Drinking water, seltzer, and unsweetened tea and coffee are the best choices.