Some previous research has suggested that consuming low- or zero-calorie foods and beverages can prompt the brain to expect calories that do not arrive, thereby triggering hunger and subsequent overeating. However, the findings of this latest study suggest that this may not be the case.
The researchers tested the effect of stevia, aspartame or sucrose on satiety, hunger and blood glucose and inulin levels in both lean and obese individuals. They gave participants a stevia, aspartame or sucrose-sweetened pre-meal snack 20 minutes before meals, with each of the stevia and aspartame-sweetened snacks containing 290 calories, while the sucrose-sweetened snacks contained 493 calories.
At meals, participants were told they could consume as much or as little as they liked.
The researchers wrote: “Participants did not compensate by eating more at either their lunch or dinner meal and reported similar levels of satiety when they consumed lower calorie preloads containing stevia or aspartame than when they consumed higher calorie preloads containing sucrose.”
Stevia, glucose and insulin
In addition to satiety questionnaires, participants also provided blood samples before consuming the pre-meal snack, and then at 30 minutes, one hour and two hours following lunch. These were then tested to assess postprandial glucose and insulin levels – and the researchers found that stevia in particular significantly reduced both glucose and insulin levels compared to either sucrose or aspartame.
“Stevia preloads reduced postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels, suggesting stevia may assist with glucose regulation,” the authors wrote. “These effects appear to be independent of reductions in caloric intake, as participants consumed similar calorie amounts in both the stevia and aspartame conditions.”
A dietitian with the international food and beverage industry trade association The Calorie Control Council, Beth Hubrich, said: "Although the totality of the scientific evidence demonstrates that low-calorie sweeteners and the products that contain them are not related to weight gain, increased hunger or overeating, there have been recent reports questioning the benefits of low-calorie sweeteners…This human study, in addition to the many others, serves as a counter to the recent allegations about low-calorie sweetener benefits from epidemiological studies (which cannot show cause and effect) and studies performed in a small number of rats."
The full study can be accessed online here.
Vol. 55 (2010), pp. 37-43
“Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels”
Authors: Stephen Anton, Corby Martin, Hongmei Han, Sandra Coulon, William Cefalu, Paula Geiselman, Donald Williamson