A rational review on the effects of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers on appetite, food reward and metabolic/adiposity outcomes in adults
Numerous strategies have been investigated to overcome the excessive weight gain that accompanies a chronic positive energy balance. Most approaches focus on a reduction of energy intake and the improvement of lifestyle habits. The use of high intensity artificial sweeteners, also known as non-caloric sweeteners (NCS), as sugar substitutes in foods and beverages, is rapidly developing. NCS are commonly defined as molecules with a sweetness profile of 30 times higher or more that of sucrose, scarcely contributing to the individual's net energy intake as they are hardly metabolized. The purpose of this review is first, to assess the impact of NCS on eating behaviour, including subjective appetite, food intake, food reward and sensory stimulation; and secondly, to assess the metabolic impact of NCS on body weight regulation, glucose homeostasis and gut health. The evidence reviewed suggests that while some sweeteners have the potential to increase subjective appetite, these effects do not translate in changes in food intake. This is supported by a large body of empirical evidence advocating that the use of NCS facilitates weight management when used alongside other weight management strategies. On the other hand, although NCS are very unlikely to impair insulin metabolism and glycaemic control, some studies suggest that NCS could have putatively undesirable effects, through various indirect mechanisms, on body weight, glycemia, adipogenesis and the gut microbiota; however there is insufficient evidence to determine the degree of such effects. Overall, the available data suggests that NCS can be used to facilitate a reduction in dietary energy content without significant negative effects on food intake behaviour or body metabolism, which would support their potential role in the prevention of obesity as a complementary strategy to other weight management approaches. More research is needed to determine the impact of NCS on metabolic health, in particular gut microbiota.