British Journal of Nutrition

Review Article

Sweet-taste receptors, low-energy sweeteners, glucose absorption and insulin release

Andrew G. Renwicka1 c1 and Samuel V. Molinarya2

a1 School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK

a2 Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Beaufort, SC, 29907, USA


The present review explores the interactions between sweeteners and enteroendocrine cells, and consequences for glucose absorption and insulin release. A combination of in vitro, in situ, molecular biology and clinical studies has formed the basis of our knowledge about the taste receptor proteins in the glucose-sensing enteroendocrine cells and the secretion of incretins by these cells. Low-energy (intense) sweeteners have been used as tools to define the role of intestinal sweet-taste receptors in glucose absorption. Recent studies using animal and human cell lines and knockout mice have shown that low-energy sweeteners can stimulate intestinal enteroendocrine cells to release glucagon-like peptide-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide. These studies have given rise to major speculations that the ingestion of food and beverages containing low-energy sweeteners may act via these intestinal mechanisms to increase obesity and the metabolic syndrome due to a loss of equilibrium between taste receptor activation, nutrient assimilation and appetite. However, data from numerous publications on the effects of low-energy sweeteners on appetite, insulin and glucose levels, food intake and body weight have shown that there is no consistent evidence that low-energy sweeteners increase appetite or subsequent food intake, cause insulin release or affect blood pressure in normal subjects. Thus, the data from extensive in vivo studies in human subjects show that low-energy sweeteners do not have any of the adverse effects predicted by in vitro, in situ or knockout studies in animals.

(Received February 12 2010)

(Revised May 05 2010)

(Accepted May 27 2010)

(Online publication July 12 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor A. G. Renwick, email


Abbreviations: GIP, glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide; GLP-1, glucagon-like peptide-1; SGLT1, Na+/glucose co-transporter