Effect of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners on Insulin Regulation, Glycemic Response, Appetite and Weight Management: A Systematic Review

The purpose of this study was to collect and assess the evidence available on the effect of non nutritive sweeteners on appetite, weight and glycemic regulation. As a replacement for sugars, non-nutritive sweeteners (NNSs) are widely being used in different food products with the assumption that these would lower calorie intake and help to manage weight and blood sugar levels better.

Evidence was acquired from systematic reviews or meta-analyses (2016–2021) of relevant clinical studies, especially randomized control trials using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines.

The review showed NNSs exposure did not conclusively induce increased food intake or change in subjective appetite ratings. Appetite biomarkers like ghrelin, gastric inhibitory peptide, C-peptide levels and Peptide YY remained mostly unaffected by NNSs. Meta-analyses of human randomized control studies showed a reduced energy intake and body weight. No significant change was seen in blood glucose levels, post-prandial glycemic or insulin response after consumption of NNSs. Adequate evidence is not available to conclusively say that NNSs influence gut health at doses relevant to human use. The Review also looked at the effect of NNS on Gut Microbiome.

Most studies which are prospective cohort, observational and cross-sectional studies suggest that use of NNSs may promote obesity and metabolic syndrome in adults. Such studies are plagued by confounding variables and reverse causation. Mechanistic evidence is mostly based on in-vitro and in-vivo studies. The same causal pathways may not be operative or relevant in humans.

This review of available literature concludes that to achieve specific public health and clinical goals, the safe use of NNSs for the reduction of intakes of free sugars and energy should be explored. This would be possible by educating the consumer about energy compensation and understanding the nutritional content of artificially sweetened products in terms of calories coming from fat and complex carbohydrates used in the product.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/NFS-03-2023-0060