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WHO advises against use of non-sugar sweeteners for weight loss, NCDs

The use of non-sugar sweeteners leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults in the long term, according to the World Health Organization.

HQ Team

May 15, 2023: The use of non-sugar sweeteners leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults in the long term, according to the World Health Organization.

Based on the findings of a systematic review of the available evidence, the global body recommended not to use the products to control body weight or cut the risk of non-communicable diseases in adults or children.

Common non-sugar sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.

Non-sugar sweeteners are low or no-calorie alternatives to free sugars generally marketed as aiding weight loss or maintaining healthy weight.

The recommendation does not apply to personal care and hygiene products containing the compounds, such as toothpaste, skin cream, and medications, or to low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols.

Healthy eating habits

The WHO guideline on non-sugar sweeteners is part of a suite of existing and forthcoming guidelines on healthy diets that aim to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, improve dietary quality and decrease the risk of non-communicable diseases worldwide.

 “Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intakes, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” says Francesco Branca, WHO Director of Nutrition and Food Safety.

“NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”

The recommendation applied to all people except individuals with pre-existing diabetes, the WHO said in an emailed statement.

It also includes all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that are not classified as sugars found in manufactured foods and beverages, or sold on their own to be added to foods and beverages by consumers.

Link to obesity

Due to the study participants’ baseline characteristics and complicated use of non-sugar sweeteners the disease outcomes may be confounded, the WHO stated.

“The recommendation has been assessed as conditional, following WHO processes for developing guidelines. This signals that policy decisions based on this recommendation may require substantive discussion in specific country contexts, linked for example, to the extent of consumption in different age groups.”

The consumption of free sugars has been linked to overweight and obesity, which affects nearly 40% of the global adult population as well as millions of children, and in turn, diet-related noncommunicable diseases which are the leading causes of death worldwide.

Sugar is added to processed foods such as donuts, bread, candy, soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and even condiments like ketchup and barbeque sauce.

The result is that many people consume a large amount of added sugar that has no nutritional benefits.

Large quantities of added sugar can lead to health problems including high blood sugar, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, dental issues such as cavities, increased triglycerides, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

Natural sugar

Sweeteners like fruit juice, honey, molasses, and maple syrup contain natural sugar and have some nutritional benefits. The fruit has fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Even raw honey and maple syrup can contain antioxidants and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium.

Foods labeled “sugar-free,” “keto,” “low carb” or “diet” often contain sugar substitutes, which fall into three categories:

Artificial sweeteners are those that are created in a laboratory and sugar alcohols, are synthetic and add flavor and taste to chewing gum and hard candies. These cause gastrointestinal irritation, like bloating, gas, or diarrhea in some people.

The third, novel sweeteners, are derived from natural sources. This relatively new group, sometimes called “plant-derived noncaloric sweeteners,” provides many benefits of artificial and natural sweeteners like fruit or honey.

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