Low calorie sweeteners may be part of an effective public health strategy in the fight against obesity and diabetes

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17th International Congress of Dietetics 2016- Granada, 8 September — Experts on appetite control, food intake and obesity confirm that “by providing sweetness without calories, low calorie sweeteners can be an effective tool in weight loss and management, when used in place of sugars”, and therefore may be one more helpful strategy in the fight against obesity from a public health perspective.

This is one of the main conclusions reached in the context of the 17th International Congress of Dietetics (ICD 2016), where the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) hosted a roundtable symposium entitled ‘Sweetness without calories: How can low calorie sweeteners be a helpful tool in dietetic practice?’. The ISA renewed its meeting with the scientific community, this time in Granada and at the ICD 2016, which took place from 7th to 10th September, bringing together more than 1500 dietitians and nutritionists from around the world.

With the participation of four renowned academics and researchers, the roundtable discussion, chaired by Dr Aimilia Papakonstantinou (Agricultural University of Athens, Greece), covered a number of interesting topics and presented emerging science around the role of sweetness and in particular sweetness without calories in the diet. Professor Kees de Graaf (Wageningen University, Netherlands), Professor Anne Raben (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and Dr Caomhan Logue (Ulster University, Northern Ireland, UK) provided a review of the most recent scientific literature and presented the outcomes of their own research regarding the effect of low calorie sweeteners on appetite and energy intake, as well as on weight management, obesity and diabetes, including from a public health perspective.

Prof de Graaf reviewed the literature on the role of sweet taste in the diet and noticed that even if our desire for sweetness declines from childhood until adulthood, an inborn preference for sweet taste has been recognised in humans. However, recent reports recommend that intake of sugars should not exceed 10% of total energy intake and, in this context, Dr Logue stated in his lecture that “low calorie sweeteners may constitute a public health strategy in the effort of reducing the overall sugar intake.”

Presenting scientific evidence from the last three decades1,2,3, Prof Raben overturned some theories of the 80s that claimed appetite and food intake increase by the use of low calorie sweeteners and supported that “low calorie sweeteners do not stimulate appetite or increase body weight, while their use may lead to reduced energy intake and weight loss, when used to replace sugar in the diet.” Furthermore, she described that although there is no single, universally-accepted hierarchy of evidence, there is broad agreement on the relative strength of the principal types of research, with randomised clinical trials (RCTs) ranking above observational studies, and systematic reviews and meta-analyses placed above RCTs. Therefore, the importance of a recently published systematic review and meta-analysis in the International Journal of Obesity1, which proved that low calorie sweeteners contribute to calorie reduction, thus helping in weight loss and management, was highlighted by all panel speakers.

In the concluding remarks about the session, Dr Papakonstantinou stated: “low calorie sweeteners seem well positioned to play a positive role in people’s effort to reduce their sugar and energy intake and to help them manage their body weight and/ or diabetes more effectively.” Finally, she noticed that “dietitians have an important role to play in educating people towards a healthy and sustainable diet”.

For more details on the session entitled ‘Sweetness without calories: How can low calorie sweeteners be a helpful tool in dietetic practice?’, and to read more about the speakers’ presentations, please read our highlights by clicking here.

You may also find more about the speakers and their biographies, as well as access more general information about ICD 2016 and ISA activities on this occasion here.

  1. Rogers PJ. 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 Mar; 40(3):381-94.
  2. Miller, P.E., Perez, V. (2014) Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 100 [pgs. 765-777.
  3. Raben A, Richelsen B. Artificial Sweeteners: A place in the field of functional foods? Focus on obesity and related metabolic disorders. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metabol Care(2012) Nov;15(6):597-604