Diet-related food primes lead to lower energy intake in dieters

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EFAD Conference 2015 – Amsterdam, 26 October: While public health concerns about obesity and its consequences are high on the agenda for both governments and health professions everywhere, it is easy to forget the role that losing weight – or maintaining a healthy weight – can have in living a healthy and active life. The 9th European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians (EFAD) Conference took place in Amsterdam on 23rd and 24th October, at which a symposium on Sweetness in everyday life: why low calorie sweeteners contribute to positive diet behaviour* showcased the latest science on the practical use of low calorie sweeteners in everyday diet.

Understanding the cues in our environment that can help us stick to diet goals can be an important aid to achieving them. This is what brought Dr Nicola Buckland and her team to conduct a laboratory study looking specifically at how diet-related food cues can improve female dieters’ appetite control and food intake. “Dieters were more likely to associate low calorie sweetened beverages with dieting to lose weight compared with the sugar-sweetened versions”, the study highlighted. As outlined by Dr Buckland, the results showed that “the exposure to images, odour or preload of diet primes, including low energy dense foods and low calorie sweetened drinks, significantly reduced energy intake” at subsequent meals, and thereby “helped facilitate dieters’ self-control”.

Closely linked to energy intake is the human appetite for sweetness, which has been addressed in the science literature for more than 30 years now. Presenting data from research on this topic and including various methodological approaches, Dr France Bellisle highlighted that “evidence does not support the hypothesis that low calorie sweeteners might exacerbate appetite for sweetness”, and that, on the contrary, their use “results in a decrease in consumption of sugar-containing products”. Based on the reviews presented, Dr Bellisle concluded: “low calorie sweeteners can be a useful tool in helping people facilitate body weight control”.

Addressing diet quality of users of low calorie sweetened beverages in particular, Sigrid Gibson presented results from international studies on this topic. These findings, together with recent work from UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data, suggest that consumers of low calorie sweetened beverages, compared with sugar-sweetened drinks, “tend to have higher quality diets, which include lower energy and carbohydrate intake, and engage in other health behaviours”. Based on the studies’ results, Sigrid Gibson highlighted that “low calorie sweetened beverages can help people reduce calorie and sugar intake without compromising diet quality”.

Based on the wealth of science outlined by the experts in Amsterdam, Dr Duane Mellor confirmed that “low calorie sweeteners have a role to play in allowing people to enjoy sweet-tasting foods without the calories”, and thereby are a useful tool in appetite and energy intake control, which is turns helps us manage our weight. By providing sweetness without the calories, low calorie sweetened options can make a useful contribution in empowering people to make smart choices and help them achieve a balanced diet and lifestyle.

For more from this session, including speakers’ biographies and abstracts of presentations, which you can access on the ISA website, please click here.

* Supported by the International Sweeteners Association (ISA).

Further reading

  • Article by Dr Bellisle on Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight Management, published in Current Obesity Reports – accessible by clicking here.
  • Unedited manuscript of the review by Prof Rogers on Does low-energy sweetener consumption affect energy intake and body weight? A systematic review, including meta-analyses, of the evidence from human and animal studies, published in International Journal of Obesity – accessible by clicking here.