Following a healthy eating pattern is the new trend in the world of nutrition today and many experts agree it’s time to stop focusing on individual nutrients, and time to start talking about healthy eating patterns overall. A healthy eating pattern supports a healthy body weight and can help prevent or reduce the risk of chronic diseases by integrating healthy dietary behaviours and regular physical activity.1 A number of dietary behaviours have been linked to a better diet quality and a healthy eating pattern, including the use of low calorie sweeteners and foods and drinks containing them.2
A new study published recently in Nutrients3 confirms previous findings that low calorie sweetened beverage consumption is indeed associated with a healthier diet and lower energy intake, and suggests that these can be part of a healthy eating pattern. It also adds one more proof point that diet drinks do not promote compensation or desire for consumption of sugary foods, but are rather related to lower energy and sugars intake overall and therefore can be a useful tool for both short- and long-term weight management, as a number of previous studies have shown.4,5,6
Low calorie sweeteners and higher diet quality go hand-in-hand
Gibson et al used data from 1590 participants of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) to explore if people who consume low calorie sweetened beverages (LCBs) tend to follow healthier diets and have lower energy, saturated fats and sugars intake, not only compared to individuals who prefer sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) but also versus people not consuming any kind of beverage at all (non-consumers) or those consuming both types of drinks.
The study found that diet drinks’ consumers had a better diet quality, which was similar to non-consumers, as both groups had higher fish, fruits and vegetables consumption, and lower meat and sugar intake, compared to SSBs consumers and/ or those individuals drinking both SSBs and LCBs. Most importantly, LCBs consumers had an identical mean total energy intake (1719 kcal/ day) as non-consumers (1718 kcal/day) and a significantly lower energy intake compared to SSBs consumers (1958 kcal/day) and consumers of both type of beverages (1986 kcal/day). Consumers of LCBs were more likely to be obese and have a higher mean BMI, however the counter-intuitive observation that LCB users are more likely to be overweight despite a lower reported energy intake than non-users is most likely attributable to reverse causality.7 Furthermore, in terms of macronutrients intake, in comparison to SSBs group and both beverages consumers, LCBs group had:
- significantly lower intakes of sugars (both as g/day and % of energy intake),
- significantly lower intakes of both fat and saturated fatty acids (on an absolute basis but not as % of energy intake),
- significantly higher protein intake (as % of energy intake).
During her presentation about diet quality in users of low calorie sweeteners at the 12th FENS European Nutrition Conference in Berlin last October, Sigrid Gibson, first author of the study, presented scientific data that suggest higher healthy eating index scores for consumers of low calorie sweetened beverages compared with sugar-sweetened drinks. She stated that consumers of low calorie sweetened beverages “tend to have better quality diets which include more fruit and vegetables, wholegrain, low fat dairy, and less fat- and sugar-containing foods”.
Low calorie sweeteners use is associated with higher healthy eating index and more physical activity in further studies
This publication is not the first to show that consumption of low calorie sweetened beverages is related to a healthier diet quality and overall lifestyle. Similarly, a 2014 review2 of the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data by Drewnowski and Rehm found that low calorie sweeteners use, including beverages, was associated with higher healthy eating index scores, less smoking and more physical activity.
Tips to follow a healthy eating pattern
Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.1 A healthy eating pattern includes:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese
- A variety of lean protein foods, including fish, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Oils rich in mono- or polyunsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil
- Deserts and snacks in moderation
- A variety of drinks and beverages for hydration (go for low calorie options to reduce energy content)
The wealth of science confirms that low calorie sweeteners can be part of a healthy eating plan and are related to a better diet quality. Scientific data also suggest that low calorie sweeteners can help reduce total energy intake and therefore be a useful tool in weight management without compromising on the pleasant taste of sweetness. 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.
You may access the original publication by clicking here. The study was funded by UNESDA.
An interesting infographic presenting the results of NHANES analysis describing “Who are the consumers of low calorie sweeteners” can be assessed via this link.
You may also find interesting to watch the following video with Professor Adam Drewnowski talking about how the relation between low calorie sweeteners and better dietary behaviours can play an integral role in weight management:
The video interview with Professor Drewnowski can also be accessed by clicking here.