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Do No-Calorie Sweeteners Increase Your Appetite?

By Jiri Kaloc

What’s the deal with no-calorie sweeteners? Are they a good way to reduce calorie intake? Or do they increase your appetite? A new randomised trial offers answers. Let’s take a closer look.

There is confusion about the safety of sweeteners

If you’re just an average cyclist going about your day, chances are you’re not keeping up with the latest research on no-calorie sweeteners. It’s no surprise that the public is confused about whether these sweeteners are good or bad. Authors of a new study understand this and set up their trial to help clarify the effects of sweeteners on hunger, blood glucose, and insulin.

“The use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers has received a lot of negative attention, including high profile publications linking their consumption with impaired glycaemic response, toxicological damage to DNA, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. These reports contribute to the current befuddlement concerning the safety of sweeteners,” said the principal investigator, Prof. Graham Finlayson from the University of Leeds.

Biscuits with sugar, Stevia or artificial sweetener Neotame

The new double-blind randomised controlled trial is unique in several ways that are very useful to the average cyclist. So far, most studies used beverages when looking at sweeteners. This new study is the first to use biscuits, a very common sweet treat. Also, most studies in the past have only compared a single sweetener (mostly aspartame) with a control, in a single dose. This new study examined the effect of repeated daily intake of two different sweeteners, one natural and one artificial.

The research included 53 overweight or obese participants, male and female, aged between 18 and 60, to test the effects of three different sweeteners: Stevia, artificial sweetener Neotame, and regular sugar.

  • The trial consisted of three 2-week consumption periods where participants consumed biscuits with fruit filling either containing sugar, natural sugar substitute Stevia or artificial sweetener Neotame. Each period was separated by a washout break of 14-21 days.
  • All participants were instructed to arrive in the lab after an overnight fast, a blood sample was taken to establish baseline levels of glucose, insulin and appetite-related hormones. They were also asked to rate their appetite and food preferences.
  • After consuming the biscuits, they were, again, asked to rate how full they felt over several hours. Glucose and insulin levels were measured, as well as appetite-related hormones.

Sweeteners reduce blood sugar and don’t make you hungry

The results were very clear. Both no-calorie sweeteners produced no differences in appetite or appetite-related hormones when compared to sugar. However, blood sugar and insulin levels measured over 2 hours after eating were reduced after sweeteners when compared to sugar.

“Our study provides crucial evidence supporting the day-to-day use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers for body weight and blood sugar control,” said Finlayson.

Sweeteners help cut sugar intake sustainably

“Reducing sugar consumption has become a key public health target in the fight to reduce the rising burden of obesity-related metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Simply restricting sugar from foods without substitution may negatively impact their taste or increase sweet cravings, resulting in difficulties sticking to a low-sugar diet. Replacing sugars with sweeteners and sweetness enhancers in food products is one of the most widely used dietary and food manufacturing strategies to reduce sugar intake and improve the nutritional profile of commercial foods and beverages,” said lead author Catherine Gibbons, Associate Professor at the University of Leeds.

If you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or trying to lose weight and you simply can’t imagine your diet without sweets then Stevia or other no-calorie sweeteners seem like a very good choice. You get to enjoy a sweet treat with fewer calories that don’t make you hungrier and spike your blood sugar.