Before you know it, the “tug of war” between fat and sugar can ruin your diet

It should come as no surprise that we consume excessive amounts of sugar overall. Scientists have now discovered that when our sweet tooth is satisfied, the craving goes away and is replaced with an intense craving for fatty foods, which can have a disastrous effect on our weight and metabolic processes.

Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have discovered a hormone mechanism that is set off by excessive sugar consumption and leads to cravings for high-fat foods. In a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) study, sugar intake quickly alerted the endocrine system to the need for fat in order to prevent what it interpreted as malnourishment.

“Too much sugar reduces sweet cravings but amps up fat intake, and vice versa,” explained co-author Mattias Alenius, Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology. “This ensures flies get enough sugar and fat as nutrients.”

In 2022, the group discovered how the Hedgehog (Hh) hormone is secreted in response to even a small increase in sugar intake. Furthermore, circulating Hh significantly increased fatty acid receptors while suppressing the perception and preference for sweet tastes.

The researchers discovered in this study that an excess of fat caused the adipose tissue to secrete Upd2, which is the human counterpart of leptin, into the hemolymph, or “bloodstream” of the fly. As a result, the perception of fat taste was suppressed, and the desire for sugary foods increased in its place.

According to this mutual regulation, overindulging in fat or sugar may alert the necessary hormones to a deficiency in the other substance, which requires immediate balancing.

“It’s a tug of war between sugar and fat – not a restriction of total calories, as we would prefer,” said Alenius. “Presumably, humans have similar compensation mechanisms to flies, which means that we prefer to have as much fat as sugar. An American cheesecake is usually said to be the best way to drive our desire to eat.”

The study will be modified for human participants, and the researchers anticipate a reaction akin to the fly’s hormonal triggers.

“We humans perceive fat as a taste, and it remains to be seen if these research findings apply also to us,” Aleniu added. “Food for thought in further research.”