No effect of low calorie sweeteners used in drinks on food intake and “sweet tooth”

Outcomes of a new study comparing low calorie sweetened drinks to water effects on eating behaviour of healthy adults


  • Low calorie sweetened beverages and water do not differ in their impact on calorie, sugar and sweet food intake, after acute or longer-term consumption, a new study finds
  • Appetite for sweet taste is not enhanced with low calorie sweeteners, neither in non-frequent consumers nor after a habituation period
  • These results show that intake of low calorie sweetened beverages does not alter the eating behaviour of non-habitual or frequent consumers of low calorie sweeteners
  • When replacing sugar, low calorie sweeteners can help reduce overall energy and sugar intake, and thus be helpful tools in calorie control and weight management

People use low calorie sweetened foods and drinks as well as table-top sweeteners for a very simple reason; to reduce their sugar consumption and thus to help manage their daily calorie intake. And in fact, this is in line with their intended use and what one should expect to be the benefit of low calorie sweeteners’ use. Indeed, there exists a large number of studies in humans, of acute or longer-term duration, showing that low calorie sweeteners’ use in place of sugar can help reduce our overall calorie intake, and thus help in weight loss efforts, in the context of a calorie-controlled diet1.

While it is only reasonable that most studies would compare low calorie sweeteners, and foods and drinks containing them, to sugar and sugary products in regard to effects on energy and food intake or appetite, there have been questions about their use by people who are not frequent consumers of low calorie sweeteners, or about their impact on appetite, the desire and consumption of sweet foods, when compared for example to water. Therefore, a new clinical trial by Fantino et al2 which examined the short- and longer-term effects of low calorie sweetened drinks versus water on appetite and food intake in “naïve” consumers and after a habituation period, is of particular importance because it provides evidence in response to the above questions.

Appetite for and consumption of sweet foods not affected by low calorie sweeteners

This new randomised controlled trial (RCT)2 in a sample of 166 healthy French adults aimed to test the hypothesis that beverages containing low calorie sweeteners would not differ from water in their impact on calorie, sugar and food intake or appetite. In order to examine this hypothesis, the study participants involved non-consumers of low calorie sweeteners, and the effects of consumption at meal times were tested before and after habituation, in the acute phase or after longer-term exposure, in controlled laboratory conditions or at home.

So, regarding the pre-habituation effects in “naïve” participants, high daily consumption of low calorie sweetened beverages at meal times (3 x 330 mL over two days) did not modify their total energy intake compared to the same consumption of water. Sugar intake was lower with low calorie sweetened drinks in the laboratory setting and ratings of hunger, fullness, and desire-to-eat obtained over the whole day were very similar between sweetened drinks and water.

After a 5-week habituation period, total calorie and food intakes did not change in the low calorie sweetened group versus the control (water) group and, as expected, there was no difference in body weight between the two groups. Furthermore, there was no increase on selection and consumption of sweet foods and no effect on appetite, hunger, fullness, and desire-to-eat ratings.

Study findings in the context of managing sweetness

So, a key outcome of this study is that eating behaviour overall and appetite for, selection and consumption of sweet foods was not affected by acute or longer-term low calorie sweetener exposure. Thus, in line with previous reports3,4, the present results do not support claims that low calorie sweeteners may promote food intake and body weight gain by uncoupling the sweet taste and by disrupting eating behaviours.5 As highlihted by Professor Marc Fantino, key investigator in this research, in an video interview: “Our study clearly demonstrates that consumption of low calorie sweetened beverages [in practice, zero calories], has no negative impact on dietary behaviour compared to water, neither in the short nor in the long term.

While the research focus has been on comparing diet beverages to sugar sweetened beverages, relatively few experimental studies have compared the long-term effects of low calorie sweetened beverages with those of water. This is where the present non-inferiority design study brings additional evidence in this area and confirms that acute and longer-term exposure to low calorie sweeteners in beverages, compared with water, does not modify food intake responses in terms of total energy intake and does not increase the selection and consumption of sugar-containing foods. In fact, some significantly lower sugar intake and selection of sweet-tasting foods in the low calorie sweeteners’ group, both under acute conditions and following habituation, suggest that meal-time low calorie sweetened beverages may satiate the appetite for sweetness in normal-weight adults, in accordance with previous observations.

In the context of the debate about low calorie sweeteners and any effects on preference for sweet taste, Prof Fantino clarified that: “Contrary to what is frequently claimed, with regards to the effects of intense sweeteners on eating behavior, ‘sweet does not necessarily call for sweetness’. In our study, for both types of consumers, drinking low calorie sweetened beverages did not lead to an increase in their preference for sweet foods over salty foods, nor did they change their food choices or their feelings of hunger and satiety.

For more information about this study, we invite you to watch the video interview with Professor Marc Fantino, France, below or by clicking here.


  1. Rogers, P. J., Hogenkamp, P. S., de Graaf, et al. 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. Int J Obes (Lond) 2016;40:381-94
  2. Fantino M, Fantino A, Matray M, Mistretta F. Beverages containing low energy sweeteners do not differ from water in their effects on appetite, energy intake and food choices in healthy, non-obese French adults. Appetite 2018; Mar 8. pii: S0195-6663(18)30066-7. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.03.007. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Rogers, P. The role of low-calorie sweeteners in the prevention and management of overweight and obesity: evidence v. conjecture. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2017 Nov 23: 1-9
  4. Bellisle, F. Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight Management. Curr Obes Rep 2015;4:106-10
  5. Burke, M. V. & Small, D. M.. Physiological mechanisms by which non-nutritive sweeteners may impact body weight and metabolism. Physiol Behav 2015;152:381-8.