In the context of the 34th International Symposium on Diabetes and Nutrition, held between June 29th and July 1st, nutrition and diabetes scientists and healthcare professionals from around the world came together in Prague to discuss and debate emerging science developments on the role of the diet in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
One of the most interesting sessions during this 3-day conference, entitled “Sweet Living: Can non–caloric sweeteners help in the fight against obesity and diabetes?” and chaired by Dr John Sievenpiper and Dr Kjeld Hermansen, brought together four renowned scientists and experts in their fields, who gave the audience a very enlightening discussion around low calorie sweeteners and their role against obesity and diabetes.
Opening up the session, Prof Fred Brouns, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University (Netherlands), presented the metabolic and physiological effects of both caloric and low calorie sweeteners, and stressed out that humans show an innate preference for sweet taste, immediately notifiable after birth. He also reviewed the association between the use of low calorie sweeteners and obesity, and highlighted that “obesity is a multifactorial lifestyle issue and that many correlations found in some observational studies have led to information being taken out of context and to misleading media headlines”. This might be also the case in the occasion of the link found in some epidemiological studies between low calorie sweeteners and obesity. In a very illustrative example, Prof Brouns explained that “overweight individuals are advised to drink water or diet drinks in place of sugary drinks in order to reduce their energy intake, and as a result a correlation is observed between obesity and water/ diet drinks consumption, which clearly is a case of reverse causality.”
In his turn, Prof. Peter Rogers, Professor of Biological Psychology in University of Bristol (UK) introduced the audience to his systematic review and meta-analysis recently published in the International Journal of Obesity which analyses the effects of low calorie sweetener consumption on energy intake and body weight. This systematic review by Rogers et al. shows that foods and beverages sweetened with low calorie sweeteners in place of sugar contribute to energy intake reduction, thus helping in weight loss and management.
As highlighted by Prof Rogers, who also presented some preliminary unpublished data from ongoing human studies examining the effect of diet drinks on the desire for sweet taste and sweet foods consumption compared to water and other beverages, “Contrary to what has been suggested by authors, human trials show that exposure to sweetness with the use of low calorie sweeteners tends to reduce people’s desire for sweet taste and actually satisfy this need, and potentially decrease the consumption of sugar-sweetened products.”
Last, but certainly not least, Dr James O. Hill, Director of the Colorado Clinical Nutrition Research Unit (USA), covered the topic of the role of low calorie sweeteners in weight loss and weight loss maintenance, as part of the results coming out of a clinical study he and his team conducted and was published in the Obesity peer-reviewed journal. According to the study outcomes, people who used to consume diet drinks and maintained this behaviour during the one-year weight loss and maintenance programme, lost more weight during the 12-week weight loss period, and most importantly, experienced greater maintenance of weight loss at 52 weeks, compared to participants who were allowed to drink only water. Since weight maintenance is a very challenging task, these outcomes might have an even greater importance, as the most significant difference found between the two groups were observed during the weight maintenance period, potentially meaning that the beneficial role of low calorie sweetened drinks might be even bigger in long-term weight loss maintenance.
Dr Hill wrapped his speech up stating that “A large number of well conducted human studies show no negative effect of low calorie sweeteners on weight control and management. We should be confident that low calorie sweeteners can help in weight loss, when used as part of an intentional weight management programme.”
In a panel discussion following the above session, all speakers agreed that “there is high quality research in humans that consistently affirms the useful role of low calorie sweeteners in weight control and management.”