Low-Calorie Sweeteners Do Not Disrupt Sweetness Preference

An article published in the May edition of the Journal of Nutrition, “Mechanisms for Sweetness” by Fernstrom et al explains the science behind sweet taste. In this review, the authors conclude that low-calorie sweeteners do not increase food intake or body weight.

The Science of Sweet

Fernstrom et al explained that taste buds are made up of a group of taste cells and each individual taste cell expresses only one type of taste receptor. All compounds that are perceived as sweet share one common trait: they bind to and activate the sweet taste receptor on taste cells in the mouth. The authors presented recent research in rodents that has confirmed the presence of sweet receptors in the gut as well. The role of sweet taste receptors in the gut has been linked to what is known as flavor conditioning. Flavor conditioning occurs when the reward system of the brain is stimulated. Animals then developed a preference for foods or drinks where their reward system was stimulated. Fernstrom et al cautioned that, “Although rodents have proven to be an excellent model system for understanding the molecular basis of sweet taste, rodents and humans differ in their perception of both nutritive sweeteners and LCS [low calorie sweeteners].”

Low Calorie Sweeteners and Mechanisms for Sweetness

It has been hypothesized that low calorie sweeteners (LCS) interact with the sweet taste receptors in the gut, and disrupt the glucose balance by promoting glucose uptake into tissues when sugars have not been consumed, and that this could lead to increased appetite and greater food intake. The research reviewed by the authors, however, contradicts this hypothesis. Fernstrom et al noted that, “Although this chain of events has not been directly tested, many findings, especially in human participants, suggest that it is unlikely to occur.”

To support the assertion that low calorie sweeteners are not nutritionally active, the authors pointed to the body of research that has shown that consumption of LCS by humans and animals does not cause changes in blood glucose or hormone levels. The authors also pointed to the research that has demonstrated that consumption of LCS does not cause increased food intake or body weight.
The full paper by Fernstrom et al can be found by clicking here.
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