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Sweet food: Does how much we eat affect how much we want?

In a recent study, researchers reviewed existing data to determine if the consumption of sweet food influences the desire to consume more sweet food.

High-sugar diets can have serious health implications, and health organizations are placing an emphasis on reducing sugar intake. The sweet flavour can induce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and may result in an increased intake of sweet food. There is evidence, however, that when naturally sweet food is consumed in low quantities, they can actually reduce one’s desire for more sweets. To clear the ambiguity in the effects of sweets on future sweets intake, an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined published data on the sugar consumption of children and adults.

The researchers used keyword combinations to search for data on the subject on PsychInfo, Food Science, and Technology Abstracts (FSTA), PubMed, and Medline. The researchers also searched the reference lists on articles for these terms. After excluding duplicates,non-English articles and articles not about humans, 21 articles remained for study analysis. The researchers classified these articles into population cohort studies and controlled experimental trials.

Population Cohort Studies

In retrospective studies, parents completed questionnaires on their child’s exposure to sweets. The children whose parents limit their intake of sweets did not crave sweet food as much as children who were permitted to eat naturally sweetened food. In contrast, the participants who had exposure to sweets had a higher desire for sweet food than groups permitted to eat naturally sweetened food.

In prospective studies, exposure to sweet food was assessed in children at various stages from six months to five years old. The controls in this study either were not at all exposed or had lower levels of exposure to sweets. The children who had sweet food while weaning, sugar-sweetened drinks, and fruit juice consumed more sweet food than those not exposed to sweets or exposed only to minimal amounts. Interestingly, some children exposed to sugar-sweetened drinks had lower sugar intake along with children who had artificially and naturally sweetened drinks and these two cohorts also had members who displayed no difference in sweets intake compared to those who had no or minimal sweets exposure.

Controlled Experimental Trials

The remainder of included studies were controlled experimental trials. The researchers grouped them into short-term studies and long-term studies to analyze the data set.The short-term studies consisted of adults who ate a diet of only salty foods for 24hours versus only sweet food for 24 hours, adults who ate a sweetened breakfasts for five days in a row versus unsweetened breakfast for five days, adults who had a piece of chocolate daily for 15 days versus adults who consumed french fries daily for 15 days.

Other short-term studies involved randomly assigning adults and children to consume various sweet foods and comparing them to participants who had no sweets or restricted sweet intake. The results of the various studies differed. Some participants who consumed high amounts of sweets were not fond of sweets, while others did not differ in their preference for sweets or intake following the exposure.

In the long-term studies, the participants were required to lower their sugar intake or add specific sweet foods to their diet. In studies where consumption of sweet foods was reduced, the participants found the sweetness of foods increased but there were no changes in intakes of sweet foods.

Long-term controlled trials are needed

The results of the studies are inconclusive and do not delineate any clear relationship between exposure to sweets and subsequent consumption of sweet foods. There were too few studies analyzed, the studies varied too greatly in design and measured outcomes, and they did not directly assess the question of the study by comparing people who consumed sweets to those who did not at all. To better determine a clear link, if any, between exposure to sweet foods and their influence on future sweet food intake, long-term controlled trials focused on specific exposures should be conducted.

Written by  Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Appleton, K.M., Tuorila, H., Bertenshaw, E.J., de Graaf, C., and Mela, D.J. (2018). Sweet taste exposure and the subsequent acceptance and preference for sweet taste in the diet: systematic review of the published literature. American Journal Clinical Nutrition, 107(3). 405–419.



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