Low calorie sweetness – its impact on appetite and relationship to diet quality

FENS Conference 2015 – Berlin, 21 October: Human appetite for sweetness is innate and remains highly influenced by genetics, ethnicity and individual food experiences. However, with the increasing global health and economic burden of obesity and related non-communicable diseases, our desire for sweet taste and its impact on food choices and weight management have taken centre stage, including here in Berlin. At the 12th European Nutrition Conference, the focus on sweetness has drawn the world’s experts to discuss how our liking for sweet foods can be managed in the context of our diet and our health. The symposium Sweetness: the science behind sweet taste preference, effect on appetite, weight management and diet quality brought together leading experts in psychology, nutrition and behavioural sciences to present the latest insights on low calorie sweetness and to discuss whether low calorie sweeteners can help satisfy our desire for sweet taste without the added calories.

Introducing the speakers, Prof Dr Fred Brouns, Chair “Health Food Innovation”, Maastricht University, acknowledged the fact that there has been much media attention on apparently conflicting science about the impact of low calorie sweeteners on our metabolism. So the symposium set out to show where the evidence lies so that nutritionists and other health professionals can be confident in the role of low calorie sweeteners today.

Looking specifically at our appetite for sweet taste, Dr France Bellisle concluded that following more than 30 years of research (observational studies and randomised-controlled trials, short-term and long-term, among children and adults), “low calorie sweeteners do not increase our liking for sweetness, evidence suggesting that they actually lead to a decrease in appetite for sweet products”.

Prof Peter Rogers presented the results of his review, published online in the International Journal of Obesity in September 2015, which analysed all of the studies relating to the effects of low calorie sweetener consumption on energy intake and body weight. As outlined by Prof Rogers, “the balance of evidence clearly indicates that the consumption of low calorie sweeteners in place of sugar, in children and adults, leads to reduced energy intake and body weight, and possibly also compared to water”.

Building on the conclusions of Dr Bellisle and Prof Rogers, Sigrid Gibson presented results from international studies relating to diet quality in users of low calorie sweeteners. These findings, together with recent work from UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data, suggest higher healthy eating index scores for consumers of low calorie sweetened beverages compared with sugar-sweetened drinks, showing that they “tend to have better quality diets which include more fruit and vegetables, wholegrain, low fat dairy, and less fat- and sugar-containing foods”.

The wealth of science confirms that low calorie sweeteners are helpful and even beneficial in today’s diet. “Low calorie sweeteners are not magic bullets but are a useful tool in weight management without compromising on the pleasant taste of sweetness”, Sigrid Gibson highlighted. 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.

For more from this session, which you can access on the ISA website, please click here.

Further reading

  • Article by Dr Bellisle on Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight Management, published in Current Obesity Reports – accessible by clicking here.
  • Unedited manuscript of the review by Prof Rogers on 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, published in International Journal of Obesity – accessible by clicking here.