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Do Regular Consumers of Low-Calorie Sweeteners Have More Sweet Cravings?

Posted on February 25, 2015. on SplendaLiving.com
Guest Blogger: Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

It’s very easy to study what tastes good to an individual. All you have to do is give the person a sample of a food or drink and observe. The person’s expression often tells you instantly whether it’s a thumb up or thumb down response!

But what if you want to know whether something is going to taste good to a large number of people? That’s not so easy.

Studies on taste preferences in children and adults show there are wide interpersonal differences in what we like. Some of that is due to genetic factors that determine the number and type of taste receptors in our mouths. Taste preferences are also affected by our age, race and gender. But another big influence is what we learn about different foods before we take the first bite.

Think back to when you had your first sip of black coffee. It probably tasted quite bitter. But if everyone around you kept saying how good it was you may have learned to like it, even if it needed some cream and sugar to go down! That’s just one example of how our experiences help shape our taste preferences.

Does Eating Sweets Make Us Crave Them?

The preference for sweetness is considered a universal trait, but there are also large variations in how much of that taste each of us likes. That’s why some people look at the dessert menu before ordering their meal in a restaurant and others pass on dessert without even peeking at the choices.

There are even people who say they crave sweets. It’s possible they have a higher tolerance for the taste of sweet foods than the rest of us, or they may have learned to associate sweet tastes with other positive feelings. Either way, it is an individual response, just like the preference for black coffee. You can read more about sweet cravings here.

One question I am often asked about sweet cravings is whether the use of low calorie sweeteners, like those found in SPLENDA® Sweetener Products, can trigger such cravings since they are considered “high-intensity sweeteners.” I’ve explained why that is not the case in a previous blog, but new research provides further evidence that low-calorie sweeteners do not overstimulate the taste receptors in the mouth to make us want more sweets.

The latest study was designed to measure how untrained subjects rated the sweetness intensity of sugar, maple syrup and agave nectar compared to different strengths of the low-calorie sweeteners acesulfame potassium, rebaudioside A (stevia) and sucralose (the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA® Sweeteners) when they were dissolved in water. The researchers found the low calorie sweeteners did not produce greater sweet sensations than the other sugars tested nor did they cause cravings. In fact, the subjects detected higher intensity sweetness from the regular sugars than the low calorie alternatives.

What about Regular Users of Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

Another study on the diets and lifestyle habits of people who are regular users of low-calorie sweeteners suggests that they do not cause cravings or overeating. Using over 10 years of data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers identified more than 22,000 users of low calorie sweeteners and placed them into one of four groups based on how they used the sweeteners. They then rated their diet quality using the Healthy Eating Index and evaluated other personal behaviors such as physical activity, smoking and alcohol use.

Results of this investigation showed consumers of low-calorie sweeteners have these traits compared to non-users:

  • Higher income and education
  • Higher Healthy Eating Index scores, including better scores for vegetables, whole grains, meat and beans and milk/dairy
  • Physically active
  • Less likely to smoke and drink alcohol
  • Less likely to consume solid fats and added sugars

With all the evidence on the safety and utility of low calorie sweeteners, I think it’s time to move beyond the questions about sweet cravings and overeating and ask, “How can I include them in my healthy lifestyle?”

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

For more information on low calorie sweeteners, visit the Sugar Substitutes section of this blog.

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