Low Calorie Sweeteners and Sweet Taste

October 28, 2019-The sense of taste is frequently cited as one of the most important factor in food choice, and is touted as the “gatekeeper” of food intake. The claim is often substantiated by consumer surveys[1] reporting that food choices are primarily based on flavor, while healthfulness and cost typically plan a less important role. Foods and beverages with a sweet taste have been associated with excessive energy intake, and as a result have been implicated as major contributors to the rise in overweight and obesity. Given that there has been no substantial change in the obesity epidemic despite the availability of options such as low- and no-calorie sweeteners (LNCS) which offer sweetness without excess calories, suggests that there is another factor at play.

While research in this area continues to emerge, a number of studies have suggested that sweetness without the associated energy may actually increase appetite and encourage consumption of other foods. However, most of these studies are observational or animal studies, neither of which are appropriate for drawing conclusions applicable to humans.  Further, there is large body of literature, including clinical trial data, reporting that the impact of LNCS-use on intake and body weight is similar to that of water[2].  When included as part of a balanced overall diet, these ingredients add a bit of variety and taste for those looking to manage their weight[3], reduce their caloric and/or sugar intake and manage blood glucose levels.

The Root of Sweet Taste Preference

Studies suggest that sweet taste preferences are inherent. Though it can be influenced by factors like genetics, nutritional deficiencies, chronic disease and medications, generally speaking, a pleasurable response to sweet taste is universal.  It should be noted, however, the preferred intensity of sweetness in food and drinks may vary significantly among individuals. Further, contrary to the reports of some studies, the consumption of sweet-tasting products has been found to stimulate “sensory-specific satiety,”[4] a general decrease in the attractiveness of all sweet products. Read more here.

[1] Why Americans eat what they do: taste, nutrition, cost, convenience, and weight control concerns as influences on food consumption. Glanz K, Basil M, Maibach E, Goldberg J, Snyder D, J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Oct; 98(10):1118-26.

[2] Peters, J.C., J. Beck, M. Cardel, H.R. Wyatt, G.D. Foster, Z. Pan, A.C. Wojtanowski, S.S. Vander Veur, S.J. Herring, C. Brill and J.O. Hill. 2016. The effects of water and non-nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss and weight maintenance: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity 24(2): 297–304. DOI: 10.1002/oby.21327

[3] Miller PE, Perez V. Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition : a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective. 2014;(3):765-777. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.082826.1

[4] Drewnowski A, Mennella JA, Johnson SL, Bellisle F. Sweetness and food preference. J Nutr. 2012;142(6):1142S–8S. doi:10.3945/jn.111.149575