Given the growing popularity of natural plant-derived products, the need to better understand whether natural non-nutritive sweeteners are actually any healthier than sugar or artificial non-nutritive sweeteners, is becoming increasingly of value and importance.
Consumption of sugar has long been condemned due to its high food energy, however, the alternatives that are “calorie-free” natural and artificial sweeteners, have also been a major source of concern, raising questions about their affects on our appetite, overall energy intake, and health.
A new study published in Springer Nature’s International Journal of Obesity has tried to address some of these concerns, and the results are stunning, but somewhat predictable at the same time.
The effect of four different drinks were put to test. One contained sugar (sucrose), another the artificial non-nutritive sweetener aspartame, and the two others were the natural NNS made from either the plants Stevia (Rebaudioside A) and monk fruit (Mogroside V); which are the only two natural non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, along with six other NNS (including aspartame).
In this short term study, thirty healthy male study participants randomly consumed one of the four sweetened drinks on each of the different days of the investigation.
On each test day, participants ate a standardized breakfast, and by mid-morning received one test beverage to tide them over until lunch. An hour later they were provided with a lunchtime meal and asked to eat until comfortably full.
Participant’s blood glucose and insulin concentrations were measured closely, while they also kept a food diary of what they ate for the rest of the day.
According to the study, there was no difference in the total daily energy intake across all four treatments, meaning that overall participants consumed the same amount of energy (calories) during the course of a day. They either reduced meal intake after the sucrose-sweetened drink or ate significantly more at lunchtime and the rest of the day to compensate for the three calorie-free drink options.
The lead author of this study, Siew Ling Tey of the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), describes the findings as “surprising.”
Until now the mainstream concern about the use of non-nutritive sweeteners has been that they could increase our appetite, which may then lead to overeating to make up for the energy saved by not choosing sugar.
The current study found that although participants felt slightly hungrier and looked forward more to eating something again when they drank non-nutritive sweetened beverages, they did not overindulge. They did however eat more following the NNS drinks than when they consumed the sugar sweetened drink.
“it doesn’t really matter whether such drinks contain sugar, Stevia, monk fruit, or aspartame. In the end, things even out in how the body reacts to these four options in terms of overall energy intake and the levels of glucose and insulin in the blood,” Tey says.
However, a recent comprehensive meta-analysis of longer term studies has demonstrated that when non-nutritive sweeteners are consumed over time there is a sustained reduction in overall energy intake and it reduces body weight.
“The energy ‘saved’ from replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at subsequent meals in the current study, hence no difference in total daily energy intake was found between the four treatments,” explains Tey. “It appears that the source of non-nutritive sweeteners, whether artificial or natural, does not differ in its effects on energy intake, postprandial glucose, and insulin.”