Common sweetener in low-calorie foods may increase obesity

New York: Sugar alcohol — erythritol — commonly used as a sugar-replacement sweetener in low-calorie foods, may be associated with weight gain and increase in fat mass in young adults, researchers have found.

The findings revealed that erythritol, found naturally in pears and watermelons and increasingly used as a food additive, can be metabolised by and even produced in the human body.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, erythritol — a metabolite — was found elevated at the beginning of the year in college freshers who went on to gain weight, fat and abdominal fat compared with their peers with stable weight.

These students showed a 15-fold higher blood erythritol at the start of the year compared with their counterparts who were stable or lost weight and fat mass over the academic year, the researchers said.

“About 75 per cent of young adults experiences weight gain during the transition from high school to college,” said Patricia Cassano, professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in New York.

Weight gain has been associated with various diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and the like.

“With the finding of a previously unrecognised metabolism of glucose to erythritol and given the erythritol-weight gain association, further research is needed to understand whether and how this pathway contributes to weight-gain risk,” Cassano added.