Sugar’s Calories May Serve as Destressor

The beverage industry has been increasingly replacing sugar with non-nutritive sweeteners in its products to control or reduce total calories. It turns out it’s the calories in sugar that may be what reduces acute stress.

A study comparing the effects of sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners on an individual’s emotional state explored whether these two types of sweeteners influenced the emotional state of tea drinkers under stress. “Tea-induced calmness: Sugar-sweetened tea calms consumers exposed to acute stressor” was published online Nov. 16 in Scientific Reports.

“This study provides empirical evidence that the consumption of tea sweetened with nutritive sweetener [sugar], but not with non-nutritive sweetener, has a calming effect on consumers with acute stress, suggesting that this effect may not be due to the sweet taste of sugar, but due to the caloric nature of the sweetener,” according to the authors.

In the study, 50 adults between 22 and 70 years old were exposed to a “no-stress” day and a “stress” day that included a math and logic quiz. Prior to drinking the tea they rated how calm they felt. Four samples of tea were then presented: (1) tea with sugar, (2) tea with stevia, (3) tea with sucralose, and (4) tea with no sweetener (control), according to Medical News Bulletin.

Participants rated how calm they felt after drinking each sample. Calmness differed with the sweetener used, and only the sugar-sweetened tea induced a greater feeling of calmness on stress day compared to no-stress day. This trend was not observed with stevia-, sucralose-, or unsweetened tea.

“The differences between nutritive- and non-nutritive sweeteners and their ability to induce calm after acute stress might be explained by studies on the brain regions activated during the ‘wanting’ component of food reward,” Medical News Bulletin reported. “Both types of sweeteners have been observed to activate regions related to the primary taste pathway, but only sugar activates regions involved in taste reward. Thus, non-nutritive sweeteners may not be able to fulfill the regions of the brain associated with reward that results from the intake of calories.”

Sources: Scientific Reports, Medical News Bulletin