Background: The reward value of food is partly dependent on learned associations. It is not yet known whether replacing sugar with non-caloric sweeteners in food is affecting long-term acceptance.
Objective: To determine the effect of replacing sugar with non-caloric sweeteners in a nutrient-empty drink (soft drink) versus nutrient-rich drink (yoghurt drink) on reward value after repeated exposure.
Design: We used a randomized crossover design whereby forty subjects (15 men, 25 women) with a mean ± SD age of 21 ± 2 y and BMI of 21.5 ± 1.7 kg/m(2) consumed a fixed portion of a non-caloric sweetened (NS) and sugar sweetened (SS) versions of either a soft drink or a yoghurt drink (counterbalanced) for breakfast which were distinguishable by means of colored labels. Each version of a drink was offered 10 times in semi-random order. Before and after conditioning the reward value of the drinks was assessed using behavioral tasks on wanting, liking, and expected satiety. In a subgroup (n=18) fMRI was performed to assess brain reward responses to the drinks.
Results: Outcomes of both the behavioral tasks and fMRI showed that conditioning did not affect the reward value of the NS and SS versions of the drinks significantly. Overall, subjects preferred the yoghurt drinks to the soft drinks and the ss drinks to the NS drinks. In addition, they expected the yoghurt drinks to be more satiating, they reduced hunger more, and delayed the first eating episode more. Conditioning did not influence these effects.
Conclusion: Our study showed that repeated consumption of a non-caloric sweetened beverage, instead of a sugar sweetened version, appears not to result in changes in the reward value. It cannot be ruled out that learned associations between sensory attributes and food satiating capacity which developed preceding the conditioning period, during lifetime, affected the reward value of the drinks.