Excess sugar consumption has been linked to weight gain and the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Many people use sugar-free sweeteners as an alternative in food and beverage products with the goal of reducing sugar intake without sacrificing energy. sweet taste, and thinking that as a side effect they could help them control their weight.
Now the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the risks that the use of unsweetened sweeteners with the aim of weight control, based on the results of a review of studies that show that these substances do not provide benefits in the reduction of body fat neither in adults nor in children and that, in addition, its continued consumption can have long-term adverse effects such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or early mortality in adults.
“The replacing free sugars by non-sugar sweeteners does not help with long-term weight control. People should consider other ways to reduce their intake of free sugars, such as eating foods with natural sugars, such as fruitor unsweetened foods and beverages”, declared the Director of Nutrition and Food Safety of the Organization, Francesco Branca.
For this reason, the WHO has published a new guideline on non-sugar sweeteners, advising against their use to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. Branca has also highlighted that these types of sweeteners are not necessary in the diet nor do they have nutritional value and advises “totally reduce the sweetness of the diet” from an early age to improve health.
To which products does the WHO guideline on sweeteners refer?
The WHO has based its new recommendation on sweeteners on the results of studies involving adults, children and pregnant women, but has not taken into account the analysis of the effects of sweeteners in people with pre-existing diabetes, because its authors indicate that this factor was outside the scope of this guideline.
The document published by this body includes all synthetic and natural or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that are not classified as sugars and that are part of the composition of processed foods and beverages, or are sold alone to be added to foods and beverages.
Toothpastes or skin creams and medicines that include this type of sweetener would not be affected by the WHO guideline
Among the most common non-nutritive sweeteners are:
- El acesulfamo K
- the advantamo
- The stevia and derivatives of stevia
Some products that include these types of sweeteners would not be affected by this guideline, such as toothpastes or skin creams and medicines, nor would those that contain sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols). low in calorieswhich contain calories and are therefore not considered non-nutritive sweeteners.
The link observed in the evidence between sweeteners and disease outcomes could be influenced by the baseline characteristics of the study participants and the complicated patterns of use of these sweeteners and therefore the WHO recommendation has been considered conditional, This means that policy decisions based on it may require discussion depending on the specific national context, which may be related, for example, to the extent of consumption in different age groups.
The World Health Organization has drawn up a series of recommendations on healthy diets – among which is this guideline – which it intends to publish with the aim of improve diet quality and reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases Worldwide. These recommendations are addressed to politicians, managers and non-governmental organizations of programs related to nutrition and the prevention of non-communicable diseases, health professionals, nutrition scientists and researchers, educators and representatives of the food industry.
Fernando Rodriguez Artalejo, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, CIBERESP and IMDEA-Food, explained in statements to SMC Spain: “More studies are needed to evaluate the effects of replacing free sugars with sweeteners. However, since it is well known that free sugars (for example, the sugar added to soft drinks and some foods, or the one we add to coffee before drinking it) are not healthy and, furthermore, new evidence suggests that free sugars sweeteners are not good in the long term, the recommendation is to reduce the consumption of both (sugar and sweeteners); in this way, the food will taste less sweet. If someone wants to eat a sweet product, they can eat fruits or add fruits to food, because their sugars are not bad (especially when the fruit is taken whole, with its fiber). On the other hand, the WHO recommendation does not apply polyalcohols (maltitol, sorbitol) that are used to sweeten some foods”.
For his part, Rafael Urialde de Andres, Professor in the Faculty of Biological Sciences of the Complutense University of Madrid and in the Faculty of Pharmacy of the San Pablo-CEU University, and member of the Board of Directors of the Spanish Nutrition Society, has indicated in statements to the same medium: ” To achieve the effects for the reduction of overweight and obesity, the control over the intake of food and beverages should be on the total diet because, if not, with the behavioral effects of indulgence, balance or energy reward, the effect of food and drinks with sweeteners can be zero, or even not have and be canceled by the rest of the food consumption. Excess sugar intake continues to be an alarming situation; In the case of the European Union, the European Food Safety has already warned about foods and beverages that provide more added and free sugars in the diet of citizens, both in the adult population (table sugar or as a homemade ingredient, pastry , sweets, sugary drinks, juices and nectars), as in children (milk and sweetened dairy products)”.