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Sweet Tooth: nature or nurture?

An important narrative in the societal discourse about foods is the idea that a high sweet taste of foods promotes energy intake and obesity. The statement “less sweetness exposure induces a lower sweetness preference, leading to lower sugar and energy intake, altogether potentially resulting in a lower body weight” is simple, attractive and powerful. However, scientific evidence that supports this reasoning is currently lacking.

A new public-private partnership, uniting Arla Foods, SinoSweet, Cargill, International Sweeteners Association, Kenniscentrum suiker & voeding (Knowledge Centre sugar & nutrition), the American Beverage Association, Unilever and the research parties Bournemouth University and Wageningen University in the TiFN project Sweet Tooth: nature or nurture? – Effect of 6 months dietary sweetness exposure to sweetness preferences, food intake, glucose homeostasis and body weight, is addressing this topic to find out whether or not the statement is correct. One additional private party is about to enter this consortium.

The study focusses on the effects of a low, regular and high sweet diet (but equicaloric) on changes in sweetness preferences as the primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures include changes in sweetness perception, energy intake, glucose metabolism and body weight. This is being conducted in a six-month nutrition-intervention study with follow-up, in which subjects are provided with foods that provide more than 50% of their energy requirements.

The scientific control of this study and its output is under the supervision of a steering committee consisting of fully independent renowned experts from a number of European universities and research institutions, and relevant Dutch public (welfare) institutions.