Artificial Sweeteners: Do they increase appetite?
Sunday, August 30, 2009
LifeTime WeightLoss in Artificial Sweeteners, Nutrition, Tom Nikkola

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management
Last week's article discussed sugar consumption and its impact on health. The next day, Monday (August 24), the American Heart Association released a report recommending a reduction in sugar consumption for the US population. The idea of cutting back on sugar sounds easy for those who consume small amounts of sugar. However, for those who have been consuming larger amounts, it may be easier said than done. One way to transition from the use of large amounts of added sugars may be the use of similar foods or beverages which contain non-caloric sweeteners, also called nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS). Because of the controversy and confusion surrounding them, we'll take a look at some of the more recent studies that have been done and discuss what they have and have not shown us. We'll look at their effect on weight management, potential side effects and other details research has shown us.


In January, Richard D Mattes and Barry M Popkin did an extensive report on NNS which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This report and other papers listed will provide a reference source for the topics discussed. I hope to cover the whole topic over the course of four articles as follows:

  1. Impact on Hunger
  2. Use in Weight Management
  3. Potential Concerns
  4. Summary

Types of Nonnutritive Sweeteners

The list of sugar substitutes includes saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-potassium (ace-K), sucralose, neotame, and stevia. Other than stevia, which is quite new, a significant number of safety studies have been done on these sweeteners. A few observational reports have called their recommended use into question. To keep things simple, we'll consider them as a group for now, and look at them individually at another time.

Nonnutritive sweeteners are most commonly thought of in diet soft drinks. This is also the use that has caused the most controversy. However, NNS are also used in food and mixes to improve the palatability and/or manage the caloric content of the food. The use of NNS can be beneficial when attempting to manage caloric content in the diet and still enjoy foods with a sweet taste.

NNS and Effect on Appetite

The first question we'll look at with NNS is "Do they increase appetite?" If their use made people more hungry, it would be hard to justify using them for the purpose of reducing calories in the diet. The effect of NNS on appetite has been studied on several occasions. The majority of studies on appetite are based on the use of NNS in beverage form, without the addition of calorie-containing food. This is an important point because some people will use the results of these studies to apply to all NNS use. In reality, NNS in calorie-containing food have no effect on appetite. Also, diet drinks consumed with food have no effect on hunger.

When NNS are used in non-calorie, flavored drinks, apart from food, some results have shown an increase in appetite and others have not. It seems possible that consuming a pleasant tasting beverage would activate the digestive process and could lead to hunger. Interestingly, a study on non-calorie soup also increased appetite. Since the soup did not contain NNS, it provided some clues that any short-term stimulation of appetite without the presence of calories is a result of the palatability of what is consumed, rather than the result of the chemical structure of NNS.

Additional studies have been done on the consumption of NNS through capsules or nasogastric tubes, which both deliver the NNS to the digestive system without the individual tasting them. These studies resulted in no effect on appetite, which further shows that the NNS effect on appetite is not likely due to the chemical structure, but due to its positive effect on taste.

Nonnutritive sweeteners are also used in foods and dietary supplements to provide enhanced taste without adding additional sugar-based calories. In this case, NNS consumed in calorie-containing foods has shown no effect on appetite. Their use may be beneficial in order to satisfy taste requirements without adding additional calories or increasing dietary sugar consumption.


Nonnutritive sweeteners may affect appetite in some people, but if they do, it seems to only occur when no calories are consumed at the same time. The most common way to consume NNS without any other calories include diet soft drinks and other sugar-free drinks. NNS consumed in beverages with food, or as an ingredient in calorie-containing foods, do not seem to affect appetite. From personal experience, moderate consumption of diet soft drinks has helped people deal with cravings and hunger associated with a reduced-calorie diet, as long as they are not the main source of hydration. Also, protein shakes, which often contain NNS for flavor, can actually help people deal with the hunger while also providing proper balanced of nutrients to support fitness and body composition goals.

Go to: Non-Calorie Sweeteners: Do they support weight loss?

Go to: Non Calorie Sweeteners: Pros and Cons


Mattes RD, Popkin BM. Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1-14

Aragon A. Artificial sweetener use: current controversies. Alan Aragon Research Review. April 2009

Lutsey P, Steffen L, Stevens J. Dietary Intake and the Development of the Metabolic Syndrome: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communitites Study. Circulation 2008;117:754-761

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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