Highlights from DIETS-EFAD Conference 2014

Posted: 01 November 2014

Low calorie sweeteners and their impact on weight management, diabetes and the liking for sweetness were hot topics of debate last weekend as the ISA joined experts in health and dietetics at the DIETS-EFAD (European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians) Conference in Athens. Select highlights of the proceedings are shared below:


There have been concerns that low calorie sweeteners (LCS) may paradoxically increase hunger and sweet cravings by uncoupling the sensory, hedonistic properties of sweetness from sugar’s satiating (energy-giving) effect. However, the conference heard consensus evidence that this is not the case and that furthermore LCS may actually be a useful tool in managing our strong innate desire for sweet.

Conference highlights:

  • Evidence suggests that people who include LCS in their diet are actually less likely to crave and over-consume sugary foods, according to Dr France Bellisle of Paris University’s Nutritional Epidemiology Unit.
  • LCS users also eat healthier, lower-calorie diets overall, including more whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and low fat dairy products.
  • Based on the evidence, many experts believe that LCS-sweetened foods may often help satisfy our natural desire for sweetness so that we don’t look for it elsewhere in the form of sugary foods.
  • LCS do not increase the appetite for sweetness. The concern that LCS can increase an appetite for sweetness by uncoupling the sensory, hedonistic properties of sweetness from its satiating (energy-giving) effect is unfounded, as shown by a converging body of data using various methodologies.

It may sound surprising, but Prof James Hill, Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of Colorado, explained that losing weight is comparatively easy – it is maintaining weight loss or preventing gain in the first place that is very hard and needs more scientific research.

Conference highlights:

  • Our biology works against us when we try to restrict food, so being physically active and therefore having more calories to play with is a much healthier approach.
  • Long term, consistent lifestyle changes like stepping on the scales regularly, eating breakfast and being active for an hour a day, are key ways to maintain weight loss, according to data from the US National Weight Control Registry (a database of people who have lost and kept off 30 lbs [13 kgs] or more).
  • Switching sugary drinks for calorie-free ones is an effective weight maintenance strategy; members of the National Weight Control Registry drank three times more LCS-sweetened beverages than the general public.
  • A randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing the effects of water and diet beverages on weight loss found that slimmers who drank diet beverages as well as water lost slightly (but statistically significantly) more weight than those who only drank water.

As a group, people with diabetes are amongst the most regular consumers of LCS, said Dr Aimilia Papakonstantinou, a dietitian and lecturer in Nutrition and Metabolism at the Agricultural University of Athens. The evidence indicates, concluded Dr Papakonstantinou, that LCS are safe and have an important role to play in the diets of those with diabetes.

Conference highlights:

  • Even among high consumers of LCS, safety is not an issue as they don’t consume anywhere near the ADI (acceptable daily intake). The average person would need to eat 75 LCS-sweetened yogurts every day for the rest of their life to reach the ADI.
  • Many people with diabetes believe they can’t eat their favourite sweet foods again after diagnosis, but LCS-sweetened foods can offer them a way to enjoy sweetness because they don’t affect blood glucose or insulin. In addition, the flavour and variety that LCS-sweetened foods provide can help people with diabetes stick to a diet that controls weight and blood sugar levels.
  • Interestingly, as regular consumers of LCS, people with diabetes have far fewer safety concerns about them. Sweeteners, such as aspartame, have been confirmed to be safe by regulatory bodies around the world, including the European Food Safety Agency and US Food and Drug Administration.

For more information about the ISA participation to the 8th DIETS-EFAD Conference in Athens, please click here.