Food and Behaviour Research

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Integration of Sweet Taste and Metabolism Determines Carbohydrate Reward

Veldhuizen MG, Babbs RK, Patel B, Fobbs W, Kroemer NB, Garcia E, Yeomans MR, Small DM (2017) Curr Biol  2017 Aug 

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  • Metabolic signals determine carbohydrate reward
  • The association between caloric load and reinforcement potency is nonlinear
  • Sweet taste regulates the generation of metabolic signals
  • The ratio between sweetness and caloric load influences metabolic response


Post-ingestive signals related to nutrient metabolism are thought to be the primary drivers of reinforcement potency of energy sources.

Here, in a series of neuroimaging and indirect calorimetry human studies, we examine the relative roles of caloric load and perceived sweetness in driving metabolic, perceptual, and brain responses to sugared beverages. Whereas caloric load was manipulated using the tasteless carbohydrate maltodextrin, sweetness levels were manipulated using the non-nutritive sweetener sucralose.

By formulating beverages that contain different amounts of maltodextrin+sucralose, we demonstrate a non-linear association between caloric load, metabolic response, and reinforcement potency, which is driven in part by the extent to which sweetness is proportional to caloric load. In particular, we show that (1) lower-calorie beverages can produce greater metabolic response and condition greater brain response and liking than higher-calorie beverages and (2) when sweetness is proportional to caloric load, greater metabolic responses are observed.

These results demonstrate a non-linear association between caloric load and reward and describe an unanticipated role for sweet taste in regulating carbohydrate metabolism, revealing a novel mechanism by which sugar-sweetened beverages influence physiological responses to carbohydrate ingestion.


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