Nonnutritive sweeteners are not supernormal stimuli

R. G. Antenucci, J. E. Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: It is often claimed that nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) are 'sweeter than sugar', with the implicit implication that high-potency sweeteners are supernormal stimuli that encourage exaggerated responses. This study aimed to investigate the perceived sweetness intensity of a variety of nutritive sweeteners (sucrose, maple syrup and agave nectar) and NNS (acesulfame-K (AceK), rebaudioside A (RebA), aspartame and sucralose) in a large cohort of untrained participants using contemporary psychophysical methods. METHODS: Participants (n = 401 total) rated the intensity of sweet, bitter and metallic sensations for nutritive sweeteners and NNS in water using the general labeled magnitude scale. RESULTS: Sigmoidal dose-response functions were observed for all stimuli except AceK. That is, sucrose follows a sigmoidal function if the data are not artifactually linearized via prior training. More critically, there is no evidence that NNS have a maximal sweetness (intensity) greater than sucrose; indeed, the maximal sweetness for AceK, RebA and sucralose were significantly lower than that for concentrated sucrose. For these sweeteners, mixture suppression due to endogenous dose-dependent bitter or metallic sensations appears to limit maximal perceived sweetness. CONCLUSIONS: In terms of perceived sweetness, NNS cannot be considered supernormal stimuli. These data do not support the view that NNS hijack or overstimulate sweet receptors to produce elevated sweet sensations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)254-259
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 11 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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