May 10 (UPI) -- A commonly used sugar replacement used in low-calorie foods that people eat to lose weight may actually have the opposite effect.
Researchers at Cornell University have found that erythritol is a biomarker for increasing fat mass and can be metabolized by and produced in the body.
The sugar alcohol erythritol occurs naturally in foods like pears and watermelons but has been used as a sugar replacement in low-calorie foods. It is found in the sugar replacement products Zsweet, Zero and Sweet Simplicity. Truvia is a mix of erythritol and stevia.
The study was a collaboration of researchers at Cornell, Braunschweig University of Technology in Germany and the University of Luxembourg, on a discovery-based analysis to identify metabolomic markers linked to weight gain and increased fat mass in students transitioning to college life.
"About 75 percent of this population experiences weight gain during the transition," Patricia Cassano, professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell, said in a press release. "With this in mind, it is important to identify biomarkers of risk that could guide its understanding and prevention."
Researchers found that people who gained weight and abdominal fat over the course of a year had 15 times higher blood erythritol at the beginning of the year compared to those who were stable or had lost weight and fat mass.
The study was part of Cornell's ENHANCE project by the Division of Nutritional Sciences to understand how the transition to college affects changes in diet, weight and metabolism in students.
"With the finding of a previously unrecognized 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 said.