New research has countered the idea that artificial and natural sweeteners make people hungrier, with scientists saying their findings do not support this theory.

Researchers who carried out the trial say their results provide “crucial evidence” which supports the day-to-day use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers for body weight and blood sugar control.

The effect of lowering blood sugar could be of particular importance for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The issue of sweeteners has historically been a contentious one due to opposing reports about whether they increase appetite.

However, the team behind these latest findings, from the University of Leeds and the Rhône-Alpes Research Center for Human Nutrition in France, say their study meets the ‘gold standard’ for the level of proof in scientific investigation.

They say there is compelling evidence that sweeteners and sweetness enhancers do not affect appetite and that their use can help to reduce sugar consumption.

Principal investigator Graham Finlayson, Professor of Psychobiology in the University of Leeds’ School of Psychology, said: “The use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers has received a lot of negative attention, including high profile publications linking their consumption with impaired glycaemic response, toxicological damage to DNA and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

“These reports contribute to the current befuddlement concerning the safety of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers among the general public and especially people at risk of metabolic diseases.

“Our study provides crucial evidence supporting the day-to-day use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers for body weight and blood sugar control.”

The trial was the first of its kind and examined the effects of eating biscuits which contained either sugar or a type of food sweetener – either the natural sugar substitute Stevia, or the artificial sweetener Neotame.

The double blind randomised controlled trial involved 53 men and women with obesity or overweight.

Almost all of the prior studies into this topic have involved the use of drinks rather than food, and very few studies have included participants of both sexes, or those with obesity or overweight.

After eating the biscuits, participants rated how full they felt over a number of hours, and researchers measured their glucose and insulin levels along with the hormones associated with food consumption.

They found no difference between the sweeteners and sugar when it came to appetite or endocrine responses. With the sweeteners, insulin levels taken two hours after eating were reduced, along with blood sugar levels.

Lead author Catherine Gibbons, Associate Professor in the University of Leeds’ School of Psychology, said: “Reducing sugar consumption has become a key public health target in the fight to reduce the rising burden of obesity-related metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

“Simply restricting sugar from foods without substitution may negatively impact its taste or increase sweet cravings, resulting in difficulties sticking to a low-sugar diet.

“Replacing sugars with sweeteners and sweetness enhancers in food products is one of the most widely used dietary and food manufacturing strategies to reduce sugar intake and improve the nutritional profile of commercial foods and beverages.”

Read the full study in eBioMedicine.

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