Original Article | Published:

Clinical Studies and Practice

Nonnutritive sweeteners are not supernormal stimuli

Abstract

Background:

It is often claimed that nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) are ‘sweeter than sugar’, with the implicit implication that high-potency sweeteners are supernormal stimuli that encourage exaggerated responses. This study aimed to investigate the perceived sweetness intensity of a variety of nutritive sweeteners (sucrose, maple syrup and agave nectar) and NNS (acesulfame-K (AceK), rebaudioside A (RebA), aspartame and sucralose) in a large cohort of untrained participants using contemporary psychophysical methods.

Methods:

Participants (n=401 total) rated the intensity of sweet, bitter and metallic sensations for nutritive sweeteners and NNS in water using the general labeled magnitude scale.

Results:

Sigmoidal dose–response functions were observed for all stimuli except AceK. That is, sucrose follows a sigmoidal function if the data are not artifactually linearized via prior training. More critically, there is no evidence that NNS have a maximal sweetness (intensity) greater than sucrose; indeed, the maximal sweetness for AceK, RebA and sucralose were significantly lower than that for concentrated sucrose. For these sweeteners, mixture suppression due to endogenous dose-dependent bitter or metallic sensations appears to limit maximal perceived sweetness.

Conclusions:

In terms of perceived sweetness, NNS cannot be considered supernormal stimuli. These data do not support the view that NNS hijack or overstimulate sweet receptors to produce elevated sweet sensations.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

References

  1. 1

    Beauchamp GK, Mennella JA . Flavor perception in human infants: development and functional significance. Digestion 2011; 83: 1–6.

  2. 2

    National Research Council (US). Food Protection Committee. The safety of artificial sweeteners for use in foods, a report: Washington, 1955.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    Sylvetsky AC, Welsh JA, Brown RJ, Vos MB . Low-calorie sweetener consumption is increasing in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 96: 640–646.

  5. 5

    Swithers SE . Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends Endocrinol Metab 2013; 24: 431–441.

  6. 6

    Zhao L, Tepper BJ . Perception and acceptance of selected high-intensity sweeteners and blends in model soft drinks by propylthiouracil (PROP) non-tasters and super-tasters. Food Qual Prefer 2007; 18: 531–540.

  7. 7

    Hutchinson SA, Ho GS, Ho CT . Stability and degradation of the high-intensity sweeteners: Aspartame, alitame, and sucralose. Food Rev Int 1999; 15: 249–261.

  8. 8

    Shankar P, Ahuja S, Sriram K . Non-nutritive sweeteners: Review and update. Nutrition 2013; 29: 1293–1299.

  9. 9

    Pereira MA, Odegaard AO . Artificially Sweetened Beverages—Do They Influence Cardiometabolic Risk? Curr Atheroscler Rep 2013; 15: 1–6.

  10. 10

    Tinbergen N, Perdeck AC . On the stimulus situation releasing the begging response in the newly hatched herring gull chick (Larus argentatus argentatus Pont.). Behaviour 1950; 1–39.

  11. 11

    Ludwig DS . Artificially sweetened beverages: cause for concern. JAMA 2009; 302: 2477–2478.

  12. 12

    Bloomgarden ZT . Nonnutritive sweeteners, fructose, and other aspects of diet. Diabetes Care 2011; 34: e46–e51.

  13. 13

    Alpert B, Farris P . The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Look Years Younger. Da Capo Press: Boston, MA, 2013.

  14. 14

    McNeil Nutritionals LLC . Splenda Products FAQs 2013, http://www.splenda.com/faq/no-calorie-sweetener

  15. 15

    Paulus K, Braun M . Sweetening Capacity and Taste Profile of Sweeteners. Ernahrungs-Umschau 1988; 35: 384.

  16. 16

    DuBois GE, Walters DE, Schiffman SS, Warwick ZS, Booth BJ, Pecore SD et al. Concentration-Response Relationships of Sweeteners. In: Sweeteners vol. 450. American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 1991, pp 261–276.

  17. 17

    Vigues S, Dotson C, Munger S . The receptor basis of sweet taste in mammals. In: Chemosensory Systems in Mammals, Fishes, and Insects. Springer, 2009, pp 20–23.

  18. 18

    Cadena RS, Bolini HMA. Ideal and relative sweetness of high intensity sweeteners in mango nectar. Int J Food Sci Technol 2012; 47: 991–996.

  19. 19

    Souza VR, Pereira PA, Pinheiro ACM, Bolini H, Borges SV, Queiroz F . Analysis of various sweeteners in low‐sugar mixed fruit jam: equivalent sweetness, time‐intensity analysis and acceptance test. Int J Food Sci Technol 2013; 48: 1541–1548.

  20. 20

    Moskowitz HR . The sweetness and pleasantness of sugars. Am J Psychol 1971; 387–405.

  21. 21

    Snyder DJ, Prescott J, Bartoshuk LM . Modern psychophysics and the assessment of human oral sensation. Adv Otorhinolaryngol 2006; 63: 221–241.

  22. 22

    Snyder D, Fast K . Valid comparisons of suprathreshold sensations. J Conscious Stud 2004; 11: 7–8.

  23. 23

    Sartor F, Donaldson LF, Markland DA, Loveday H, Jackson MJ, Kubis HP . Taste perception and implicit attitude toward sweet index and soft drink supplementation. Appetite 2011; 57: 237–246.

  24. 24

    Thai PK, Tan EC, Tan WL, Tey TH, Kaur H, Say YH . Sweetness intensity perception and pleasantness ratings of sucrose, aspartame solutions and cola among multi-ethnic Malaysian subjects. Food Qual Prefer 2011; 22: 281–289.

  25. 25

    Green BG, Lim J, Osterhoff F, Blacher K, Nachtigal D . Taste mixture interactions: suppression, additivity, and the predominance of sweetness. Physiol Behav 2010; 101: 731–737.

  26. 26

    Hayes JE, Allen AL, Bennett SM . Direct comparison of the generalized Visual Analog Scale (gVAS) and general Labeled Magnitude Scale (gLMS). Food Qual Prefer 2013; 28: 36–44.

  27. 27

    Kamerud JK, Delwiche JF . Individual differences in perceived bitterness predict liking of sweeteners. Chem Senses 2007; 32: 803–810.

  28. 28

    Murray JM, Delahunty CM, Baxter IA . Descriptive sensory analysis: past, present and future. Food Res Int 2001; 34: 461–471.

  29. 29

    Hootman RC (ed). Manual on descriptive analysis testing for sensory evaluation. ASTM: Philadelphia, PA, 1992.

  30. 30

    Green BG, Shaffer GS, Gilmore MM . Derivation and evaluation of a semantic scale of oral sensation magnitude with apparent ratio properties. Chem Senses 1993; 18: 683–702.

  31. 31

    Bartoshuk LM, Duffy VB, Fast K, Green BG, Prutkin J, Snyder DJ . Labeled scales (eg, category, Likert, VAS) and invalid across-group comparisons: what we have learned from genetic variation in taste. Food Qual Prefer 2003; 14: 125–138.

  32. 32

    Riera CE, Vogel H, Simon SA, le Coutre J . Artificial sweeteners and salts producing a metallic taste sensation activate TRPV1 receptors. Am J Physiol 2007; 293: R626–R634.

  33. 33

    Allen AL, McGeary JE, Knopik VS, Hayes JE . Bitterness of the non-nutritive sweetener acesulfame potassium varies with polymorphisms in TAS2R9 and TAS2R31. Chem Senses 2013; 38: 379–389.

  34. 34

    Frank RA, Ducheny K, Mize SJS . Strawberry Odor, but Not Red Color, Enhances the Sweetness of Sucrose Solutions. Chem. Senses 1989; 14: 371–377.

  35. 35

    Schifferstein HN, Verlegh PW . The role of congruency and pleasantness in odor-induced taste enhancement. Acta Psychol (Amst) 1996; 94: 87–105.

  36. 36

    Bartoshuk LM, Klee HJ . Better Fruits and Vegetables through Sensory Analysis. Curr Biol 2013; 23: R374–R378.

  37. 37

    Taga A, Kodama S . Analysis of Reducing Carbohydrates and Fructosyl Saccharides in Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar by CE. Chromatographia 2012; 75: 1009–1016.

  38. 38

    Willems JL, Low NH . Major carbohydrate, polyol, and oligosaccharide profiles of agave syrup. Application of this data to authenticity analysis. J Agric Food Chem 2012; 60: 8745–8754.

  39. 39

    Lawless HT . Evidence for neural inhibition in bittersweet taste mixtures. J Comp Physiol Psychol 1979; 93: 538.

  40. 40

    Frijters JER . Critical Analysis of Odor Unit Number and Its Use. Chem Sens Flav 1978; 3: 227–233.

  41. 41

    Hayes JE . Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Sweetness. Chemosens Percept 2008; 1: 48–57.

  42. 42

    Lichtenstein P . The relative sweetness of sugars: sucrose and dextrose. J Exp Psychol 1948; 38: 578.

  43. 43

    Allen AL, McGeary JE, Hayes JE, Rebaudioside A, Rebaudioside D . Bitterness do not Covary with Acesulfame-K Bitterness or Polymorphisms in TAS2R9 and TAS2R31. Chemosens Percept 2013; 6: 109–117.

  44. 44

    Schiffman SS, Booth BJ, Losee ML, Pecore SD, Warwick ZS . Bitterness of sweeteners as a function of concentration. Brain Res Bull 1995; 36: 505–513.

  45. 45

    Hellfritsch C, Brockhoff A, Stähler F, Meyerhof W, Hofmann T . Human psychometric and taste receptor responses to steviol glycosides. J Agric Food Chem 2012; 60: 6782–6793.

  46. 46

    Schiffman SS, Booth BJ, Losee ML, Pecore SD, Warwick ZS . Bitterness of sweeteners as a function of concentration. Brain Res Bull 1995; 36: 505–513.

  47. 47

    Larson-Powers N, Pangborn RM . Paired Comparison and Time-Intensity Measurements of Sensory Properties of Beverages and Gelatins Containing Sucrose or Synthetic Sweeteners. J Food Sci 1978; 43: 41–46.

  48. 48

    Mazur RH . Discovery of aspartame. Aspartame: Physiology and biochemistry 1984; 3–9.

  49. 49

    Fujimaru T, Park JH, Lim J . Sensory Characteristics and Relative Sweetness of Tagatose and Other Sweeteners. J Food Sci 2012; 77: S323–S328.

  50. 50

    Stone H, Oliver SM . Measurement of the relative sweetness of selected sweeteners and sweetener mixtures. J Food Sci 1969; 34: 215–222.

  51. 51

    McBride RL . Category scales of sweetness are consistent with sweetness-matching data. Percept Psychophys 1983; 34: 175–179.

  52. 52

    MacLeod S . A construction and attempted validation of sensory sweetness scales. J Exp Psychol 1952; 44: 316.

  53. 53

    Fry JC, Yurttas N, Biermann KL, Lindley MG, Goulson MJ . The Sweetness Concentration-Response of R,R-Monatin, a Naturally Occurring High-Potency Sweetener. J Food Sci 2012; 77: S362–S364.

  54. 54

    Fitch C, Keim KS . Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet 2012; 112: 739–758.

  55. 55

    Schiffman SS . Rationale for Further Medical and Health Research on High-Potency Sweeteners. Chem Senses 2012; 37: 671–679.

  56. 56

    Dotson CD, Vigues S, Steinle NI, T1R Munger SD . and T2R receptors: the modulation of incretin hormones and potential targets for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Curr Opin Investig Drugs 2010; 11: 447.

  57. 57

    Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP . Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008; 16: 1894–1900.

  58. 58

    Peters JC, Wyatt HR, Foster GD, Pan Z, Wojtanowski AC, Vander Veur SS et al. The effects of water and non-nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss during a 12-week weight loss treatment program. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2014; 22: 1415–1421.

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Alissa L. Allen, MS and Emma L. Feeney, PhD for assistance with protocol development and testing, and Rachel Primrose, BS for participant scheduling and assistance in the Sensory Evaluation Center. We also thank our study participants for their time and participation. Funding was provided by the Pennsylvania State University and a National Institutes of Health grant from the National Institute National of Deafness and Communication Disorders [DC010904] to JEH.

Author information

Competing interests

RGA declares no potential conflict of interest. JEH has previously accepted speaking and consulting fees from Tate & Lyle PLC, Symrise AG, PepisCo, and General Mills, Inc. for unrelated projects. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of Medifast, Inc. His laboratory also conducts routine taste tests for the food industry to facilitate practical student training. None of these organizations have had any influence over study conception, design or interpretation, or the decision to publish these data.

Correspondence to J E Hayes.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Table 1 (DOC 69 kb)

  2. Supplementary Table 2 (DOC 196 kb)

  3. Supplementary Table 3 (DOC 166 kb)

  4. Supplementary Figure (JPG 265 kb)

  5. Supplementary Legends (DOC 32 kb)

Rights and permissions

To obtain permission to re-use content from this article visit RightsLink.

About this article

Figure 1
Figure 2