Fast Take: Can Low-Calorie Sweeteners Increase Your Appetite?

Here we go again.

Another day, another headline touting questionable science. This time, findings in a study published in Cell Metabolism suggest that consuming sucralose might increase appetite.  This is important because low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) can provide an alternative to caloric sweeteners and may facilitate weight loss or maintenance by limiting calorie intake.

Does this mean you have to ditch your favorite LCS? Before we begin purging the pantry in a state of panic, let’s take a gander at the study.

The study from Wang et al. examined the effects of LCS on appetite and pleasure brain signals in model organisms such as fruit flies and mice. While these models afford the ability to mechanistically test specific hypotheses and pathways, they do not allow for direct links to human health to be made.  Don’t get me wrong, there is good reason to use animal models. These models are cheaper than enrolling a human study, can allow for increased sample size and statistical power, are easier to be modified or altered, and as a whole are just simpler systems. But I want to emphasize the last part: they are simpler systems. When all is said and done, to be able to make direct links to human health, results need to be derived from randomized controlled trials, the gold-standard for assessing cause and effect.

What does the science say on using low-calorie sweeteners for weight management? There is a large body of evidence that clearly outlines that LCS are not associated with an increase in weight gain, but rather can be an effective tool in reducing calorie intake, resulting in weight loss.

Want some light reading? The CHOICE study found that substituting a minimum of two diet beverages for sugar-sweetened varieties every day for six months resulted in positive changes in overall eating patterns and calorie intake.

Looking for a scan of the where the science stands? These comprehensive reviews have analyzed the current body of research and have found that LCS “may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight loss or weight maintenance plans.” Additionally, the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee assessed the relationship between LCS and measures of body weight and obesity and found consistent evidence that when replacing sugar-containing sweeteners, LCS reduce calorie intake, body weight and adiposity.

Don’t let this one-off study sway you away from using your favorite LCS. Let’s make sure to keep perspective on what one recent finding may report versus the totality of science supporting LCS. Bottom line, LCS are a great option for those looking to still have the sweet taste while minimizing calories.

Additional resources:

Facts about Low-Calorie Sweeteners
Surprising Support for Low-Calorie Sweeteners: Expert Q&A
Fast Take: Sucralose & Health

This blog includes contributions from Laura Kubitz.

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