The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new recommendations advising against the use of non-sugar sweeteners to control weight, citing potential health risks.
The guidance is based on a systematic review of scientific literature, which found that non-sugar sweeteners do not aid in long-term reduction of body fat and may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early death.
The WHO clarifies that the recommendation does not encourage the consumption of real sugar but suggests reducing the overall sweetness of the daily diet by opting for foods with naturally occurring sugars or unsweetened options.
The recommendation applies to individual sweetener packets as well as the increasing use of sugar substitutes by food companies in processed foods and beverages, including breads, cereals, yogurts, and snack bars. Common non-sugar sweeteners identified by the WHO include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.
The Calorie Control Council, a food industry group, strongly disagrees with the WHO’s recommendation, asserting the established safety and benefits of non-sugar sweeteners in weight management, oral health, and reducing calorie and sugar intake.
They argue that the recommendation may have negative implications for public health, as it allegedly fails to consider the full picture of the efficacy of these ingredients.
Recent research challenges the previous belief that nonnutritive sweeteners were mostly inert and primarily aided in calorie reduction. Studies indicate that sugar substitutes can have adverse effects on the gut microbiome and increase the risk of cardiovascular issues such as strokes and coronary heart disease.
The WHO acknowledges that its recommendation is “conditional” due to various factors that may have influenced the findings, including differences in the health of study participants. The Calorie Control Council emphasizes the uncertainty associated with the “conditional” label, noting a substantial body of evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of low- and no-calorie sweeteners in reducing sugar and calorie consumption, managing body weight, and mitigating the risk of non-communicable diseases.
It is important to note that the WHO’s recommendation does not pertain to personal care and hygiene products containing non-sugar sweeteners, such as toothpaste, skin cream, and medications.