Science news on low/no calorie sweeteners (Part A): 2021 in review


  • New studies and reports published in 2021 confirm the safety and role of low/no calorie sweeteners in sugar and calorie reduction, which in turn can help in weight management.
  • The use of low/no calorie sweeteners in place of sucrose may also have a promising prospect in caries management, according to the authors of a recent study.
  • A new survey points out that communicating information about low/no calorie sweeteners from trusted health government agencies can help people to make informed choices about sweeteners’ use.


Consistent with a four year tradition of presenting key research findings on low/no calorie sweeteners science in a year-in-review article, this ISA article provides a summary of key outcomes of interesting scientific studies published in 2021.

EFSA reconfirms safety of thaumatin

In a scientific opinion published in 2021, the European Food Safety Authorty (EFSA) reconfirmed that the low calorie sweetener thaumatin is safe for use in food and beverages and that there are no safety concerns at current exposure levels.1 In their review, EFSA’s scientific experts assessed the totality of the available scientific evidence, including toxicological, intake and epidemiological data and concluded that thaumatin, a digestible protein, is safe when used as a food additive. The re-evaluation of thaumatin was part of EFSA’s re-evaluation process of all food additives permitted for use in the European Union before January 2009, including sweeteners.

New study explains why it is important to communicate information from trusted organisations

A UK study in 1589 participants found that when participants were informed about the positions of scientific and regulatory bodies, such as the European Food Safety Authority, on the safety and role of low/no calorie sweeteners, they significantly changed their views about risk perception and increased their awareness of the benefits of low/no calorie sweeteners.2 Indeed, a lack of knowledge in regulations about sweeteners was associated with a high-risk perception. The authors concluded that developing the right communication strategies to educate consumers on the positions of trusted health government agencies and professional bodies, can help them to make informed choices.

Low/no calorie sweeteners, energy intake and body weight: Evidence from new reviews

A new systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) examining the effects of unsweetened (water) and sweetened preloads with caloric or low/no calorie sweeteners on subsequent energy intakes was published in the beginning of 2021.3 The results of the meta-analysis showed that the consumption of low/no calorie sweetened in place of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages leads to lower calorie intake by, on average, 130 calories. No difference was found when low/no calorie sweeteners were compared to water. These findings support the assertion that both unsweetened and low/no calorie sweetened beverages may benefit body weight control by limiting calorie intake, when used to replace sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. Another conclusion reached by the authors is that sweetness per se does not affect acute energy intake since both unsweetened and low/no calorie sweetened options had a similar result on caloric intake.

Another interesting publication this year is a citation analysis of published reviews examining the effect of low/no calorie sweeteners on body weight.4 The study observed that published reviews concluding a beneficial relationship between low/no calorie sweeteners and body weight cite mainly RCTs, the gold standard in clinical and nutrition research, whereas reviews concluding an adverse relationship cite mainly observational studies, which are rated as being of lower quality. The authors concluded that, overall, inconsistent and selective use of the available evidence may account for the diversity of conclusions in reviews on low/no calorie sweeteners and body weight seen in the literature.

Low/no calorie sweeteners and dental health: New evidence of benefit

The role of low/no calorie sweeteners in dental health, when used in place of sugars, is well documented and new data published this year add further evidence on this relationship. A new study examining the effects of four low/no calorie sweeteners (acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose) showed that these sweeteners inhibit the cariogenic potential of biofilms by maintaining microbial equilibrium.5 The authors of the study conclude that these findings confirm acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose possess less cariogenic potential than sucrose, which may have a promising prospect in caries management.

For more scientific news on low/no calorie sweeteners, we invite you to also read the article “Science news on low/no calorie sweeteners (Part B): 2021 scientific events in review” presenting a summary of key outcomes of scientific events that took place in 2021.

We hope you enjoyed reading another year-in-review ISA article. From our side, we stay committed to continue bringing you the latest and key scientific news around low/no calorie sweeteners over the next year as well, and we wish you a happy and healthy 2022!

  1. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Flavourings (FAF). Re-evaluation of thaumatin (E 957) as a food additive. EFSA Journal 2021 Nov 30;19(11):e06884. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2021.6884. eCollection 2021 Nov.
  2. Farhat G, Dewison F, Stevenson L. Knowledge and Perceptions of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners Within the UK Adult Population. Nutrients 2021;13(2):444
  3. Lee HY, Jack M, Poon T, Noori D, Venditti C, Hamamji S, Musa-Veloso K. Effects of unsweetened preloads and preloads sweetened with caloric or low-/no-calorie sweeteners on subsequent energy intakes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled human intervention studies. Advances in Nutrition 2021;12(4):1481-1499. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa157
  4. Normand M, Ritz C, Mela D, Raben A. Low-energy sweetenes and body weight: a citation network analysis. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2021;4. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000210
  5. Zhu J, Liu J, Li Z, Xi R, Li Y, Peng X, Xu X, Zheng X, Zhou X. The Effects of Nonnutritive Sweeteners on the Cariogenic Potential of Oral Microbiome. BioMed Research International 2021; 9967035. doi: 10.1155/2021/9967035