The consumption of low-energy sweeteners (LES) substituting for regular sugar, in children and adults, has been found to reduce caloric intake and body weight. It may possibly do the same when comparing low energy sweetener to water possibly because of taste. This according to a review led by researchers at the University of Bristol published in the International Journal of Obesity, November 2015.
For the first time, a single meta-review evaluates the real effect of LES, such as saccharine (e.g. Sweet And Low®), aspartame (e.g. Equal®), sucralose (e.g. Splenda®), and Stevia (e.g. Truvia®), on energy intake (EI) and body weight (BW) over the short and long term. A considerable body of evidence correlates the consumption of LES in place of sugar reduces relative energy intake and body weight.
Lead author Professor Peter Rogers from the University of Bristol said: “We believe that we should shift the question from whether LES are ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and rather focus on how they should be best used in practice to help in the achievement of specific public health goals, such as the reduction of intakes of free sugars and energy.” (Rogers, 2015)
The researchers carried out systematic reviews of pertinent studies in non-primates and humans consuming LES in a non-restricted diet.
In total, 12 human prospective cohort studies, 228 comparisons in human intervention studies (short and long-term), and 90 animal studies were examined.
“Managing energy balance (that is, energy intake vs. energy expenditure) well results in a steady body weight. On the contrary, eating an excessive amount of food causes an increase in body weight as this extra energy is stored in the body as adipose tissue (fat). Low energy sweeteners were developed for consumers looking for ways to reduce their sugar and energy intake.” (Evidence shows low-energy sweeteners help reduce energy intake and body weight, 2015)
The comparison between LES drinks and water is of interest because it shows that low energy sugar does not increase hunger. The evidence found in this study purports that LES drinks reduced weight more than water. A cogent reason for this may be that changing from regular sugar drinks to those with low energy sugar may be easier and a more palatable dietary change than switching to water.
This study seems to contradict another study by Monica Dus a researcher at the University of Michigan as reviewed in an earlier edition of The Fat Bastard Gazette,
FRUIT FLY NEURONS AND HUMAN NEURONS CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REAL SUGAR AND ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER CAUSING A HUNGER RESPONSE! VOL. 1 NO. 40.
“From an evolutionary perspective, sweet taste means sugar (traditionally from fruit or high concentrate carbohydrates) and a subsequent big energy boost. Fruit flies can’t call out for pizza–their brains expect calories if they eat something sweet, and that’s why they chose the regular sugar, Dus says.” (diet sweeteners could exist in humans, 2015)
“If our brains work the same way, this helps explains why diet foods don’t satiate or satisfy us, and we gain weight while dieting. It’s analogous to a person eating that entire sleeve of low-calorie cookies and the body telling her she’s still hungry. She keeps snacking until she eats something with nutritional value that meets her energy needs.” (Bailey, 2015)
“In two previous studies, Dus and her colleagues found that flies that couldn’t taste preferred real sugar to a zero-calorie sweetener, which underscores the theory of energy preference. They also characterized a neural circuit, dubbed Cupcake+, which functions as a behavioral on/off switch for eating. Turning off the Cupcake neurons makes the fruit flies “feel” hungry, Dus says.” (Bailey, 2015)
Further information on low energy sugar study (LES)
What makes this new or different?
For the first time, the totality of evidence on the question of low-energy sweeteners’ effects on energy intake and body weight has been considered in a systematic review, including both human and animal research.
What is a ‘systematic’ review and why is that important?
In a systematic review, researchers identify all relevant scientific papers that address a question. It is a way to overcome possible bias (for example, from selecting or ignoring certain evidence), and ensure the totality of relevant evidence is considered. A systematic review is also transparent and open to direct replication by other experts.
Are ‘low energy’ sweeteners the same as ‘artificial’ sweeteners?
Some low-energy sweeteners are derived from natural sources, but the majorities are manufactured, so they are often called ‘artificial’ sweeteners.
Why do some people say that low-energy sweeteners might cause weight gain?
The hypothesis that low-energy sweeteners might cause weight gain has come from a subset of animal and observational studies. However, the current paper shows that this hypothesis is not supported by the majority of studies with animals, nor by any of the many controlled studies with humans consuming low energy sweeteners for weeks or years.
What about the safety of low-energy sweeteners?
This paper did not evaluate safety. The low-energy sweeteners used in commercial foods and beverages have all undergone safety evaluations needed to achieve regulatory approval for use by the general public.
Why do you say that low-energy sweeteners are beneficial, “possibly even also when compared to water”?
This comes from intervention studies showing that people tended to lose more weight when they consumed low-energy sweetened (‘diet’) drinks rather than water.
Does this mean using low-energy sweeteners will cause weight loss?
No. Weight change is dependent on the total diet and activity pattern, not a single component of foods and beverages. However, using low-energy sweeteners is a helpful alternative to caloric sweeteners, to reduce the risk of weight gain or as part of weight loss.
What was the role of the food industry in this paper?
Of the 11 authors, two are research scientists in the food industry, eight are independent academics, including four full professors recognized as international authorities in the areas of eating behaviour and nutritional epidemiology. (Evidence shows low-energy sweeteners help reduce energy intake and body weight, 2015)
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Bailey, L. (2015, June 11). MICHIGAN NEWS University of Michigan. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from Regular soda, please: Hormone that differentiates sugar, diet sweeteners could exist in humans: http://ns.umich.edu/new/multimedia/videos/22948-regular-soda-please-hormone-that-differentiates-sugar-diet-sweeteners-could-exist-in-humans
Evidence shows low-energy sweeteners help reduce energy intake and body weight. (2015, November 10). Retrieved November 13, 2015, from University of Bristol: http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2015/november/low-energy-sweeteners-and-weight.html
Rogers, P. e. (2015, November 10). 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, Online publication. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.177