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Aspartame: Impact on Appetite, Food Intake and Weight Management

Research Affirms Aspartame Does Not Increase Appetite, Food Intake - Can Help with Weight Management

A small number of epidemiological and animal studies raising concerns that low- and no-calorie sweeteners might actually promote weight gain have garnered extensive media and internet attention. However, there is an extensive body of research showing that when used in place of higher calorie options, foods and beverages made with low- and no-calorie sweeteners have the potential to aid in weight management. But, it is also clear that their benefit depends on how people choose to use foods and beverages sweetened with low-and no-calorie sweeteners since the calories they save can quickly be erased by excess calories in other food and beverages choices.

  • A two-year randomized control trial by Blackburn et. al. found that obese people enrolled in a weight-loss protocol who were instructed to consume products containing aspartame lost about the same amount of weight as those who were instructed to avoid aspartame-containing products. However, at the two-year follow-up mark, the aspartame users were found to be more successful in keeping extra weight off, regaining less than half the amount of weight as the non-user (control) group.
  • A 2012 study found that substituting sugar-sweetened beverages with diet beverages resulted in a 2.5% weight loss compared with a 2.0% weight loss with water substitution.
  • A 2011 study found that the metabolic effects of diet cola are “mainly neutral and very similar to that of water.”
  • A 2010 satiety study in lean and obese subjects by Anton et al published in the journal Appetite found that participants did not compensate by eating more at either their lunch or dinner meal when they consumed lower calorie preloads containing stevia or aspartame compared to when they consumed higher calorie preloads containing sucrose.
  • A review paper by Mattes and Popkin published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 analyzed findings from 224 studies on the effects of low- and no- sweeteners on appetite, food intake and weight. They found the idea that low- and no-calorie sweeteners might promote weight gain originated with a 1986 British study in which self-rated appetite was found to be higher in people who drank aspartame-sweetened water compared with those who drank plain water. However, this finding was not confirmed in other studies, and no increase in intake was found in any study that assessed the effect of low- and no-calorie sweetener consumption on actual food intake. They concluded that although short-term trials provide mixed evidence of reduced energy intake with low- and no-calorie sweetener use, “longer-term trials – arguably the more nutritionally relevant studies – consistently indicate that the use of low- and no-calorie sweeteners result in slightly lower energy intakes.”

With regard to impact on BMI, Mattes and Popkin noted that “reverse causality remains a likely explanation” for at least a portion of recent epidemiological findings linking low- and no-calorie sweetener use to weight gain, and that ‘’taken together, the evidence summarized by us and others suggests that if non-nutritive sweeteners are used as substitutes for higher-energy-yielding sweeteners, they have the potential to aid in weight management.’’

  • A 2007 review by Bellisle and Drewnowski evaluated a variety of laboratory, clinical and epidemiological studies on low- and no-calorie sweeteners, energy density and satiety and came to a similar conclusion: “Although they are not magic bullets, low- and no-calorie sweeteners in beverages and foods can help people reduce their calorie (energy) intakes.”
  • A 2006 a review of 16 studies by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) concluded that “using foods and drinks sweetened with aspartame instead of sucrose is an effective way to maintain and lose weight without reducing the palatability of the diet. Given the weighted average study length was 12 weeks, this gives an estimated rate of weight loss of around 0.2 kg/week for a 75-kg adult.”
  • The American Dietetic Association (ADA) conducted an in-depth analysis of common questions and concerns about aspartame using its “evidence analysis” (EAL) approach in 2008. For example, some have claimed that low- and no-calorie sweeteners like aspartame could have a “rebound” effect that leads people to have more of an appetite or to eat more food and that low- and no-calorie sweeteners actually “make” people gain weight. The analysis also evaluated whether evidence existed to support suggestions found on the Internet that aspartame has a negative impact on health. Following a rigorous analysis of relevant human studies, which included taking into account factors such as size and quality of each study and potential bias, the review concludes that, media speculation aside, using aspartame as a sweetener has no effect on appetite or food intake. The same evaluation reaffirmed what regulators and health authorities have said many times before: aspartame is not associated with adverse effects for the population at large.
    • Key findings from the ADA’s evidence-based analysis of aspartame research include:
      • “There is good evidence that aspartame does not affect appetite or food intake.” This consensus statement was given a “grade 1,” the highest grade in the EAL scale.
      • “Using aspartame in the context of a reduced calorie diet does not affect weight and may be associated with increased weight loss in adults.” This body of research also was given a grade 1, the highest grade in the EAL scale.
      • The committee evaluated peer-reviewed research from the scientific literature on this topic and concluded, “Aspartame consumption is not associated with adverse effects in the general population.” Once again, the expert work group found that the support for this statement is grade 1, the highest grade in the EAL scale.
        The ADA managed all aspects of the process, including selection of research analysts and expert work group members. The evaluation was funded jointly by ADA and Ajinomoto. For access to the report, and to review all of the questions along with access to summaries of the research visit the ADA Evidence Analysis Library web site, accessible via www.eatright.org.

References

Tate DF, et al. Replacing caloric beverages with water of diet beverages for weight loss in adults: Main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published ahead of print February 1, 2012. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.026278.

Maersk M, et al. Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First published ahead of print De-cember 28, 2011. doi:10.395/ajcn.111.022533.

Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:739-758. http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8363

Anton S, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. advance online publication March 2010; doi:10.1016/j.appet.2010.03.009

Mattes R and Popkin B. Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 89:1-14.

http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/89/1/1

Bellisle F and Drewnowski A. Intense sweeteners, energy intake and the control of body weight. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 61: 691-700.

Perrigue MM and Drewnowski A. Sugars and satiety: Does the type of sweetener make a difference? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86:116-123, 2007. http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/86/1/116

Ashwell, M, Gibson, S, de la Hunty, A. A review of the effectiveness of aspartame in helping with weight control. British Nutrition Bulletin. 2006 June ;31(2):115-128.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library on Aspartame. A systematic review of the literature on aspartame. www.adaevidencelibrary.com

Blackburn GL, Kanders BS, Lavin PT, Keller SD, and Whatley J. The effect of aspartame as part of a multidisciplinary weight-control program on short- and long term control of body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997; 65, 409-418.