Effects of Non-nutritive Sweeteners on Sweet Taste Processing and Neuroendocrine Regulation of Eating Behavior

TITLE:  Effects of Non-nutritive Sweeteners on Sweet Taste Processing and Neuroendocrine Regulation of Eating Behavior

CITATION & LINK: Curr Nutr Rep (2020)

AUTHORS: Alexander G. Yunker, Reshma Patel, Kathleen A. Page

REVIEWER: Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN


  • To review and summarize the current literature and address the gaps in knowledge regarding the effects of both acute and chronic exposure to non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) across the lifespan on glucose metabolism, sweet taste perception and preference, and neural systems involved in appetite and reward in humans.


  • Despite the increased use of NNS over the past several decades and their being marketed as a tool in weight management, the prevalence of obesity and associated metabolic disorders has continued to rise.
  • Epidemiological evidence suggests that NNS exposure throughout the lifespan, including in utero, can contribute to risk for weight gain and metabolic disorders.
  • Experimental designs have reported that NNS have neutral or beneficial effects on body weight and glucose metabolism.
  • There is concern that NNS may uncouple the evolved relationship between sweet taste and the efficacy of brain regions related to appetite and reward to process sweet taste


  • Review and summarize the research on NNS and sweet taste perception and preference, NNS and metabolic hormones (insulin, glucagon-like peptide 1, peptide YY, gastric inhibitory polypeptide, leptin, ghrelin and glucagon), and NNS and neural systems involved in appetite and reward with an emphasis on human studies.


  • NNS exposure during early development, including during pregnancy and lactation, may influence sweet taste conditioning and acceptance in humans.
  • Neuroimaging studies provide evidence that NNS elicit differential neuronal responsivity in areas related to reward and satiation, compared with caloric sweeteners, which might increase motivation for sweet foods.
  • Available studies provide equivocal evidence on the effects of NNS consumption on hormones involved in appetite regulation and glucose homeostasis.


  • Given the widespread popularity of NNS and the heterogeneous findings of their effect on metabolic outcomes and neuroendocrine pathways, future studies are essential to establish the role of NNS on physiological responses.

Points to Consider

  • The available studies do not indicate whether specific concentrations and types of NNS elicit hormone secretion, whether the effects of NNS are dependent on delivery method, or whether the consumption of NNS in isolation or in the presence of carbohydrates produces different effects.
  • The impact of individual characteristics, such as habitual NNS consumption, age, sex, adiposity, and insulin resistance on the metabolic hormone responses to NNS consumption has not been fully investigated.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

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