Emerging scientific news about low calorie sweeteners presented at the greatest scientific event on nutrition globally

Highlights from the 21st International Congress of Nutrition


  • Evidence supports low calorie sweeteners’ use as a means to reduce calorie and sugar intake within a balanced dietary pattern, according to a recent Consensus meeting outcome.
  • New 4-week intervention study shows no impact of daily low calorie sweetened drink consumption at mealtime on appetite and food intake.
  • New 6-month clinical trial finds no negative effects of low calorie sweeteners on insulin sensitivity and on risk markers of type 2 diabetes.

The latest evidence around low calorie sweeteners’ science was among a number of highly interesting topics presented at the 21st International Congress of Nutrition (ICN) that took place this year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 15th to 20th October. Overall, nutrition professionals from around the world look forward to the emerging scientific news that experts on food and nutrition bring to light at ICN, one of the greatest scientific events on food and nutrition worldwide organised by the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) every four years. Therefore, bringing together at the IUNS 21st ICN leading experts on the field of low calorie sweeteners science to present new data on this scientific area is of highest interest to scientists, health and nutrition professionals globally.

The findings of new randomised clinical trials (RCTs) on low calorie sweeteners’ effect on appetite and energy intake, as well as on insulin sensitivity and type 2 diabetes, recent data from systematic reviews on low calorie sweeteners’ role in weight management, and an overview of the latest evidence on the use, role, benefits and safety of low calorie sweeteners were presented during two highly attended scientific symposia as well as at poster presentations in the context of the 21st International Congress of Nutrition, and are briefly discussed in this article.

For more detailed information about the topics and the speakers of the scientific sessions on low calorie sweeteners at IUNS 21st ICN, please visit the dedicated page on the ISA website by clicking here.

New clinical trial confirms no effect of low calorie sweetened beverage intake on appetite

In a poster presentation by Dr Marc Fantino, who presented the outcomes of a new RCT in 164 healthy and normal-weight adults, it was shown that, when compared to water, the acute and longer-term consumption of low calorie sweetened drinks at mealtimes for 4 weeks does not affect food intake and appetite nor increase calorie or macronutrient intake. Furthermore, the selection and consumption of sweet foods was not different between the diet drink and the control (water) groups, confirming the fact that low calorie sweeteners’ intake does not lead to an increase of preference and consumption of sweet-tasting products. Importantly, this was confirmed for both individuals who were either regular diet drink consumers or non-consumers of low calorie sweeteners, even after a 4-week habituation period to daily low calorie sweetener intake.

No effect of low calorie sweeteners on insulin sensitivity, a new long-term trial finds

Presenting the latest data on low calorie sweeteners and state of research in relation to their effect on weight management, Prof Anne Raben, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, announced the outcomes of a new under publication RCT in 60 overweight and obese people by Sara Engel et al (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, accepted for publication), which aimed to compare the effect of a 6-month daily intake of 1 litre of low calorie sweetened beverage, water, low-fat milk and sugar-sweetened beverage on insulin sensitivity and blood lipids. Importantly, this long-term RCT found that there was no difference among the different beverage groups on insulin resistance indexes after 6 months of continuous consumption. Furthermore, and regarding the effects on blood lipids, the daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages led to higher levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood compared to low calorie sweetened drinks.

The findings of this new RCT are of high importance as claims from individual animal studies supporting that long term low calorie sweetener intake can contribute to insulin resistance and thus to type 2 diabetes are once again rejected in humans. On the contrary, this trial confirms that low calorie sweeteners do not affect insulin sensitivity and have no impact on risk-markers of type 2 diabetes in overweight and obese adults, who are frequently consuming low calorie sweeteners in their effort to manage their calorie and sugar intake.

Outcome of a Consensus meeting on low calorie sweeteners

The outcomes of a Latino-American Consensus meeting held in July 2017 in Lisbon regarding the use, safety, role and benefits of no- and low calorie sweeteners were presented by Prof Lluís Serra-Majem, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, at a scientific symposium organised by the Spanish Foundation for Nutritional Research (FIN) and the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN), within the framework of the 21st International Congress of Nutrition.

The experts of this meeting stressed out the fact that it is of highest significance to consumers to be able to find credible and evidence-based information regarding low calorie sweeteners’ use, especially in light of the multiple sources of unreliable information, mostly online and on social media, which provide inaccurate and misleading information of nutrition and health issues overall including of low calorie sweeteners’ science. Therefore, the publication and further communication to the public of a consensus document presenting the state of the art in relation to strong evidence about low calorie sweetener use can help bring the science closer to the consumers.

For more information about the scientific symposium organised by the Spanish Foundation for Nutritional Research (FIN) and the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN), please read the relevant release news by clicking here.

Update on health and safety of low calorie sweeteners

In a scientific symposium organised by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI)Prof Peter Rogers, Bristol University, UK, Prof Xavier Pi-Sunyer, Columbia University Medical Center, USA, Dr Ashley Roberts, Intertek Regulatory & Scientific Consultancy, Canada, and Dr France Bellisle, Université Paris, France, provided evidence in response to questions raised in the popular press and by public health communities regarding the potential benefits and safety of low calorie sweeteners.

Some of the key remarks of the speakers of this session include:

  • Disproving early suggestions that low calorie sweeteners may enhance the natural appetite for sweetness and paradoxically stimulate the consumption of other sweet (sugar-containing) products, intervention studies show that low calorie sweeteners satiate rather than enhance the appetite for sweet tasting products and facilitate the reduction of sugar intake.
  • Overall, the balance of the evidence shows that low calorie sweeteners appear to be helpful in reducing calorie intake and thus in weight management.
  • A considerable number of clinical trials with low calorie sweetened products have been done through the years and most have shown little or no impact on glucose levels during both short-term and longer-term trials.
  • Low calorie sweeteners are among the most extensively studied food ingredients. The safety of all food additives including of low calorie sweeteners is assessed by extensive reviews undertaken by regulatory authorities and committees such as The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the United States (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

For more information about the scientific symposium organised by ILSI North America and ILSI Europe, please review the speakers’ abstracts by clicking here.