If you are a healthy young man who wants to watch your weight and manage your blood sugar levels, what should you drink? Can you risk something sugary? Will you be hungrier after drinking calorie-free options containing artificial or natural non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS)?
In an article recently published in Springer Nature’s International Journal of Obesity, study results show that it doesn’t really matter whether such drinks contain aspartame, Stevia, monk fruit or sugar. Siew Ling Tey of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, and lead author of the study, explained that is does not really matter as the body reacts differently to these four options in terms of overall energy intake and the levels of insulin and glucose in the blood, and tends to even things out. This is interesting, given the growing popularity of natural plant-derived products. The study was driven by the need to find out whether natural non-nutritive sweeteners are healthier than an artificial non-nutritive sweetener or sugar.
Four different drinks were tested and their effects recorded. One contained the artificial non-nutritive sweetener aspartame, another sugar (sucrose) and two others contained a natural NNS made from plants – the monk fruit (Mogroside V) or Stevia (Rebaudioside A). The US Food and Drug Administration has only approved these two natural non-nutritive sweeteners, along with six other NNS containing aspartame.
Thirty healthy males participated in this short-term, four-day study. The participants each randomly consumed one of the four sweetened drinks on each day of the investigation. On each test day, they ate a standardized breakfast and received one test beverage by mid-morning to tide them over until lunch. A lunchtime meal was provided an hour later and participants were asked to eat until comfortably full. Their insulin concentrations and blood glucose were measured closely. The participants also kept a food diary of what they ate for the rest of the day.
Tey was surprised by the results. The team found no difference in the total daily energy consumption across the four treatments. Overall, the participants consumed the same amount of energy (calories) during the course of a day. They either ate substantially more at lunchtime and the rest of the day to compensate for the three calorie free drink options, or ate less after taking the sucrose-sweetened drink.
People often worry that they will overeat to make up for the energy they saved by not choosing sugar, as they believe that using non-nutritive sweeteners could increase their appetite. The new study found that participants did not overindulge although they looked forward more to eating something again and felt slightly hungrier when they drank non-nutritive sweetened beverages. They did however eat less following the sugar sweetened drink than when they consumed the NNS drinks.
Tey explains that there was no difference in total daily energy intake between the four treatments. In the current study, the energy that was saved by replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweetener was fully compensated for at the following meals. Tey added that it appears that irrespective of whether the source of non-nutritive sweeteners is natural or artificial, it does not differ in its effects on energy intake, postprandial insulin and glucose.
A recent comprehensive meta-analysis of longer-term studies has however shown that body weight is reduced and there is a sustained reduction in overall energy intake when non-nutritive sweeteners are consumed over time.