Do low-calorie sweetened beverages help to control food cravings? Two experimental studies

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Author(s): Maloney NG, Christiansen P, Harrold JA, Halford JCG, Hardman CA
Publication name: Physiology & Behaviour 2019; 208: 112500
Publication year: 2019


Low-calorie sweetened (LCS) beverages may help consumers to satisfy hedonic food cravings without violating dieting goals, however this remains unexplored. The present research investigated the effect of priming hedonic eating motivations on ad libitum energy intake in frequent and non-consumers of LCS beverages. It was hypothesised that energy intake would be greater after the hedonic eating prime relative to a control prime in non-consumers, but that frequent LCS beverage consumers would be protected from this effect. In Study 1 (N =120), frequent and non-consumers were exposed to either chocolate or neutral cues (craving vs. control condition) and then completed a beverage-related visual probe task with concurrent eye-tracking. Ad libitum energy intake from sweet and savoury snacks and beverages (including LCS) was then assessed. Study 2 followed a similar protocol but included only frequent consumers (N=172) and manipulated the availability of LCS beverages in the ad libitum eating context (available vs. unavailable). Measures of guilt and perceived behavioural control were also included. In Study 1, as hypothesised, non-consumers showed greater energy intake in the craving condition relative to the control condition, but frequent consumers had similar energy intake in both conditions. Frequent consumers (but not non-consumers) also demonstrated an attentional bias for LCS beverage stimuli compared to both sugar and water stimuli. In contrast, in Study 2 frequent consumers showed greater energy intake in the craving condition relative to the control condition; however, overall energy intake was significantly greater when LCS beverages were unavailable compared to when they were available. Ratings of guilt were higher and perceived control was lower in the LCS-unavailable condition relative to the LCS-available condition. Conclusions: LCS beverages did not consistently protect consumers from craving-induced increases in energy intake. However, frequent consumers consumed fewer calories overall when LCS beverages were available (relative to unavailable), as well as perceiving more control over their food intake and feeling less guilty.


The current paper by Maloney et al supports the hypothesis that low calorie sweetened beverages may benefit some individuals in reducing their caloric intake by controlling food cravings, possibly by subtly reminding them of their weight maintenance goals whilst helping to satisfy their desire for sweetness. This finding also lends support to initial evidence that exposure to sweet taste does not increase a subsequent preference for sweet products.

While low calorie sweetened beverages did not consistently protect all participants from craving-induced increases in food intake, however, frequent consumers ingested fewer calories overall when low calorie sweetened beverages were available relative to unavailable, as well as experiencing more control over their food intake, greater meal enjoyment and less guilt. In practice, this finding supports the notion that low calorie sweeteners can help some individuals in adhering to a weight-management plan probably because of maintaining a greater palatability in the diet and, thus, pleasure from eating. These findings provide novel insight into the psychological mechanisms underpinning frequent consumption of low calorie beverages in the context of their beneficial effect on weight control.

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