Low-calorie sweetener exposure
: associations with weight status, glycaemic control, and food-related cognition

  • Aoibheann Dunne

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Excessive consumption of free sugars, defined as any sugars that are added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, and sugars in fruit juices, honey, and syrups, is associated with increased risk of obesity. Low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) reduce free sugar content of foods, whilst maintaining diet palatability. As studies generally use low-calorie sweetened beverage (LCSB) consumption as a proxy measurement, potential health benefits are not currently established. Therefore, a urinary biomarker approach that accurately determines short-term exposure of five commonly consumed LCS was previously developed, and this project developed a food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) to assess habitual exposure.

The FFQ and biomarker assessed the relationship between LCS exposure, weight status, dietary intakes, and food-related cognition, finding no clear relationships. The FFQ and biomarker both estimated LCS exposure as widespread (≥89%; Chapter 3, 4 & 5). Chapter 4 indicated that adults with a high saccharin exposure had 5% higher total energy intake (TEI) from sugar than those with medium exposure. Conversely, pregnant women with high acesulfame-k exposure had a 4% lower %TEI from carbohydrates than those with medium exposure (Chapter 5). Chapter 3 indicated that high exposure to LCS-sweetened foods (LCSF) may be related to a lower ability to recognise sweet taste. The medium LCSB exposure grouping reported higher sweet-food preferences, compared to the no/low grouping. The included systematic review investigating the effectiveness of LCS as diabetes management tools also indicated that LCSB may increase blood glucose, whereas LCSF showed reductions in glucose concentrations, when compared to controls.

Although studies were observational and included small sample sizes, lack of clear relationships indicate that LCS are seemingly inert compounds. As the potential differences between individual LCS and delivery vehicles demonstrate the limitation in using LCSB as a proxy measurement, a multi-factorial approach utilising the FFQ and biomarker is optimal in similar future studies
Date of AwardOct 2021
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorAlison Gallagher (Supervisor), Caomhan Logue (Supervisor) & Maria Mulhern (Supervisor)


  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners
  • Diet beverages
  • Food frequency questionnaire
  • Method of triads
  • Weight management
  • Body mass index
  • Waist circumference
  • Sweet taste
  • Taste thresholds
  • Diabetes

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