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Recent study indicates low-calorie sweetened drinks don’t induce “sweet-taste confusion”

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A recent study published within the journal Appetite suggests that low-calorie sweeteners present in products like food plan sodas satiate our desire for sweet tasting foods. The study found when participants imagined a hypothetical lunch, those that were assigned an imaginary food plan soda to accompany their food were more prone to select a savory over sweet snack.

Previous research on the results of low calorie sweeteners had found that weight gain seemed to be a consequence of selecting low calorie sweeteners over sugar. But the explanations for these findings are unknown.

Hypotheses include the “sweet taste confusion theory,” that posits those that habitually ingest low-calorie sweeteners adapt to the flavour of sweet carrying only a few calories and consequently their body doesn’t help them to stop after they have had enough real sugar. The “sweet tooth” theory suggests that those that absorb low calorie sweeteners develop a preference for sweets and so absorb more real sugar than they need. The third “compensation” hypothesis says when people use low calorie sweeteners they feel they’ve saved calories and treat themselves to foods that exceed any calories saved.

Angelica Monge and her colleagues sought to unravel which of those theories could also be true.

The research team obtained 332 participants from the freshman psychology class on the University of Bristol.  The research was conducted over a 3 12 months period.  Research participants were asked to assume a lunch that may include a cheese sandwich and a beverage. They imagined this cheese sandwich alongside five different beverages.

They were told they’d eat the cheese sandwich and drink ⅔ of the assigned beverage.  Then they were to select from one in every of two snacks, M&M’s or peanuts. They were told they’d drink the remaining ⅓ of the beverage with the chosen snack.

Participants were also asked in the event that they were habitual soft drink or food plan soft drink users. Results revealed that when participants imagined eating the sandwich with a food plan soda they didn’t find evidence for the “sweet taste confusion theory,” or the “sweet tooth” theory. Participants when imagining drinking each food plan or regular soft drinks were more prone to pick savory snacks over sweet.

These findings support an alternate “sweet satiation” hypothesis, that when individuals ingest sweet foods they turn into satisfied and require no more sugar.  This effect was the strongest for many who reported they often drank food plan soda. The research team suspects this will be because those individuals are conscious of calories to start with.

Moreover, participants could select how much of the snack they desired and this data didn’t support the compensation hypothesis.  When imagining drinking a food plan soda they were no more prone to increase the quantity of snack than in other beverage conditions.

Interestingly data collected from the participants found those that reported they were habitual food plan soft drink consumers had the next BMI than those that drank regular soft drinks or milk. The research team suggest this correlation is probably going as a consequence of the upper BMI coming before the habitual food plan soda drinking, not the opposite way around.

There have been some acknowledged limitations, including the age of participants. The consequence of school freshman drinking food plan soda could also be different than those that have been ingesting low calorie sweeteners for many years. Finally, although prior research had found imagined eating to be an accurate representation of what people would do in the true world, it’s unknown if that is true for this group of participants.

The study, “Consumption of low-calorie sweetened drinks is related to ‘sweet satiation’, but not with ‘sweet-taste confusion’: A virtual study“, was authored by Angelica Monge, Danielle Ferriday, Simon Heckenmueller, Jeffrey Brunstrum, and Peter Rogers.

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