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Surveys are a valuable way to find out what people want. They can be as simple as asking three friends what topping you should get on the pizza you’re ordering, to the more elaborate surveys used to predict who might win the next election. Sometimes the results surprise us, at other times they confirm what we already knew.
When it comes to surveys about how we make our food and beverage decisions, I am never surprised when I see what consumers usually want most. It’s good taste! This was confirmed again in the 2014 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation. Taste was the most important factor influencing food and beverage selection for 90 percent of those surveyed. It has consistently been number one in the nine years this survey has been conducted, and in 2014 the percentage of people placing it at number one was the highest ever. Price, healthfulness, convenience and sustainability followed behind taste in the rankings.
If this rings true for you, then you probably won’t be surprised to learn that being satisfied with food choices is important to people trying to manage their weight. In fact, it may be a critical factor when it comes to adopting new eating behaviors.
Low-Calorie Sweetener Use and Weight Loss
A jointly conducted study at the University of Colorado and Temple University was designed to see whether drinking water or beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners (LCS), also known as sugar substitutes, made a difference for people participating in a comprehensive 12-week behavioral weight loss treatment program. The initial results were published in the journal Obesity in June 2014 and further results on how well the subjects maintain their weight loss will be reported after one year.
Here are a few key points about this research. All of the subjects who participated in the study were consumers of beverages made with LCS before being selected. They also had to meet other criteria to be eligible. After being selected they were randomly assigned to be in the “Water” group or the “LCS” beverage group, but otherwise they all received the same treatment.
Those in the Water group were asked to drink at least 24 fluid ounces of water each day while following their personalized food plan and were told not to drink any beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners or add low-calorie sweeteners to their beverages, such as coffee or iced tea. They could, however, eat foods that contained low-calorie sweeteners, such as types of yogurt, gum, candies, cookies and pudding.
The people in the LCS beverage group were asked to consume at least 24 fluid ounces of LCS-sweetened beverages each day and could have as much water as they wanted. They could also eat foods that contained low-calorie sweeteners.
Participants in both groups were given coupons for bottled water and those in the LCS beverage groups also received coupons for LCS beverages. All were asked to record their daily beverage intake in order to monitor their adherence to the program beverage requirements.
Group Consuming Beverages Sweetened with Low-Calorie Sweeteners Had Greater Weight Loss
After all participants completed the 12-week behavioral weight loss treatment program, the researchers found no significant differences in their adherence to the beverage consumption requirements or changes in their physical activity as determined by armband measurements and activity logs. What they did find was that weight loss was significantly greater in the LCS beverage group members than the Water group members, and that the LCS beverage group reported a slight decrease in hunger compared to those in the Water group.
The good news coming out of this study is that it provides evidence that consuming beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners does not increase appetite or lead to weight gain. And for people who have been enjoying beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners, continuing to do so while making other dietary changes to lose weight may offer some advantages.
Although the study found that the LCS beverage group were more likely to adhere to the dietary recommendations, the design of the study did not allow the researchers to explain what the reason was for the greater weight loss in the LCS beverage group and their decreased hunger compared to the Water group.
Fewer Calories is Key
We’ve learned a lot about weight loss and weight loss maintenance from members of the National Weight Control Registry, and shared some of it here and here. Information gathered from both the adolescent and adult members shows us that creating an energy deficit is a key factor contributing to their success. That means they take in fewer calories than they expend in physical activity. Using low calorie sweeteners and beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners is one way to do that.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.
For more information about low-calorie sweeteners and weight loss, visit the Healthy Lifestyle section of this blog.