Sugar substitutes don't overstimulate taste buds

Sugar substitutes don't overstimulate taste buds

Scientists at Penn State University find that sucralose and other low-calorie sweeteners do not lead to sweet cravings.

A new study from scientists at Penn State University shows that low-calorie sweeteners, when used in amounts typical for preparing foods and beverages, do not overstimulate a person's sweet taste buds. These results provide additional evidence that low-calorie sweeteners do not lead to sweet cravings and can be a helpful part of a healthy lifestyle. Among the sweeteners used in the study was sucralose, the no-calorie sweetening ingredient in Splenda® Sweetener Products.

The study, supported by the National Institutes for Health, evaluated the perceived sweetness intensity of various low-calorie sweeteners and other sugar substitutes when compared to sugar. Sugar substitutes are often described as "high-intensity" sweeteners and sweeter than sugar, according to the researchers, and misperceptions have grown that people who use them regularly may crave more sweets, causing them to overeat and gain weight.

Researchers recruited 401 people between the ages of 18 and 64 for a series of taste tests conducted over four days. Participants drank between 12 and 15 separate samples containing maple syrup, agave nectar and sugar, as well as various concentrations of the sugar substitutes sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame K and rebaudiosode A (a compound found in stevia). The drinks were expected to be equivalent in sweetness based on the sweetness potency of each sweetener. The study participants were asked to rate the perceived sweetness of each sample on a scale from zero to 100, with 100 being the sweetest sensation they could imagine.

The results, published in the International Journal of Obesity, showed that participants perceived the sweetness of sugar substitutes at lower concentrations than real sugar, but the intensity of these sensations was not sweeter than sugar. They indicated that the full-calorie sweeteners all had higher sweetness ratings than the sugar substitutes. 

Researchers said these results do not support the claim that sugar substitutes produce a harmful effect on people by overstimulating sweet taste receptors to produce hyper-intense sweet sensations. The authors report that they do not evoke sweet sensations that are more intense than sugar.

"This research is helpful in addressing the concern that no- or low-calorie sweeteners lead to weight gain because they overstimulate a person's sweet taste buds, which has been suggested could cause sweet cravings and/or overeating sweets," says Maureen Conway, R.D., director of nutritional affairs, McNeil Nutritionals LLC. "The data shows just the opposite—that the sweetening ingredients in sugar substitutes like Splenda Sweetener Products do not overstimulate people's taste buds. This data builds on previous science that shows that Splenda No Calorie Sweetener, as part of a healthy meal plan and with regular physical activity, can be an excellent way to help with weight loss and weight maintenance."


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