Use of Low-Calorie Sweeteners by the Nation’s “Biggest Losers”

Use of Low-Calorie Sweeteners by the Nation’s “Biggest Losers”: Members of the National Weight Control Registry Drop Pounds and Keep Them Off

Chandler Ray, University of Maryland Dietetic Intern

When it comes to weight loss and maintenance, drinking low/no-calorie sweetened beverages is a popular alternative to caloric sweeteners. A recent study published in Obesity contributes to existing evidence that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) may facilitate weight control by limiting calorie intake (Catenacci, et al., 2014). The study evaluated the strategies of successful weight loss maintainers using the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a long-term weight loss maintenance research study that includes people who have lost 30 or more pounds of weight and kept it off for at least one year. In this study, a total of 434 members of the NWCR, who had maintained weight loss for an average of seven years, completed the online survey.

The results of the study revealed that more than half of all participants consumed one or more low-calorie beverage on a daily basis. These included diet soda, coffee, and tea with low-calorie sweeteners. Additionally, 78 percent of participants who consumed low-calorie beverages at least once a week believe drinking low/no-calorie sweeteners has helped them control or reduce their total food or calorie intake.

Low/no-calorie sweetened beverages are often sweetened with “high intensity” sweeteners in place of sugar and other caloric sweeteners, substantially reducing or eliminating calories.  Evidence suggests that LCS have the potential to support weight management when substituted for higher-calorie options. A study on the effects of stevia and aspartame found that subjects who received low/no-calorie sweeteners consumed significantly fewer calories, but overall reported no increases in hunger levels (Anton et al., 2010).  In addition, despite conflicting information in the media regarding safety concerns, an extensive body of research has demonstrated current US-permitted low-calorie sweeteners to be safe.

The most common reasons study participants reported consuming LCS were for the taste, to satisfy thirst, to reduce calories, and to go with meals. These findings are consistent with the IFIC Foundation’s 2013 Food & Health Survey, which found those Americans who consume low-calorie sweeteners do so to reduce total calories (68 percent), to prevent a future health condition (30 percent), and/or for taste preference (30 percent).

In addition, water consumption was by far the most common and important strategy used for weight loss and weight maintenance. A majority of participants noted that making changes in beverage consumption (specifically, increasing water and reducing calorie/regularly sweetened beverages) to be very important in weight control.

This study highlights the potential use of LCS as a long-term tool for weight management. Subjects indicated that consuming these beverages helped limit their total calorie intake, suggesting these behaviors could play a role in a weight control program. However, it is important to note that their benefits depend on how people choose to use them. Those who regularly consume LCS in place of higher-calorie options are more likely to reduce their total calorie intake. As this study concluded, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, LCS are an effective aid in long-term weight control.


For more information on low-calorie sweeteners view the newly updated IFIC Foundation “Facts About Low-Calorie Sweeteners


Related: IFIC Statement on LCS-Glucose Study in Nature