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New NBU publication - Low-calorie sweeteners: are they friend or foe?

10 November 2015

Confusion reigns about low-calorie sweeteners. A systematic review finds that the evidence clearly favours consumption of low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar to help reduce calorie intake and body weight. This research, which was led by Professor Peter Rogers, is published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Low-calorie sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and stevia provide sweet taste with few or zero calories. Therefore, when consumed in place of sugar, low-calorie sweeteners should reduce overall calorie intake and help with weight control. Concern, however, has been raised that they might have the opposite effect, for example because they may confuse the relationship between sweet taste and calories in our diet.

Peter Rogers and colleagues from Bristol and seven other institutions investigated these differing claims by reviewing all of the relevant evidence from human and animal studies. They used systematic and meta-analytic review methods and found that the weight of evidence was clearly in favour of low-calorie sweeteners consumption. In particular, a variety of randomised, controlled intervention trials show consistently that low-calorie sweeteners versus sugar consumption reduces energy intake and body weight, with no effect or even reduced body weight compared with consumption of water. These types of studies provide the strongest form of evidence – superior to animal and observational studies.

Professor Rogers commented that “When the all the relevant evidence is assembled, the results are surprisingly clear in favouring consumption of low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar. It is a pity, therefore, that selective reporting of certain studies, particularly animal studies in which consumption of low-calorie sweeteners is not representative of human consumption, has caused confusion and may deter people from including low-calorie sweeteners in their diet. Avoiding low-calorie sweeteners misses an opportunity to reduce intake of sugar and calories.”

‌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. PJ Rogers, PS Hogenkamp, C de Graaf, S Higgs, A Lluch, AR Ness, C Penfold, R Perry, P Putz, MR Yeomans, DJ Mela. International Journal of Obesity. Click here to view

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