- New guidelines from the World Health Organization advise people not to use non-sugar sweeteners.
- Experts say these sugar substitutes don’t provide any long-term health benefits and can actually affect the body’s microbiome.
- They recommend replacing sugary substances with more naturally sweet foods such as fruit as well as unsweetened foods and drinks.
Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) has released
The officials said the recommendations were based on a finding from a review of evidence that suggests non-sugar sweeteners do not provide any long-term benefit for reducing body fat in adults or children.
The recommendations apply to all people except those with pre-existing diabetes and include all synthetic, naturally occurring, and modified non-nutritive sweeteners found in manufactured food and beverages or sold to be added to foods and drinks by consumers.
“I agree that it is essential to focus on reducing the sweetness of the diet overall, starting early in life,” said Dr. Laura DeCesaris, the founder of Heartroot Health, a wellness center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Rather than looking for ‘better’ sweet swaps, the focus can be to emphasize a more balanced diet full of a variety of whole foods – lean meats, healthy fat, vegetables, fruits, etc. – versus swapping sugar for a non-calorie version,” she told Medical News Today.
Common non-sugar sweeteners include:
“It’s important to note that weight loss cannot be achieved simply by replacing high-calorie foods with low-calorie alternatives,” said Caroline Thomason RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian based in Virginia.
“It is the cumulative effect of our habits and behaviors over time that contributes to overall health,” she told Medical News Today.
The recommendation does not include personal care and hygiene products, such as:
- Skin cream
- Low-calorie sugars
- Sugar alcohols
“The [information on the] health effects of consuming non-sugar sweeteners regularly is inconclusive,” said Kate Cohen, RD, a registered dietitian at the Ellison Clinic at Saint John’s, part of the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine and Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.
“Most of them are classified as ‘gras’ – generally regarded as safe – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t negative health effects,” she told Medical News Today. “A study published a few years ago in Cell showed that saccharin and sucralose (aka Sweet n Low and Splenda) not only caused blood sugar to rise like sugar, they also caused changes in the microbiome, meaning they didn’t go through the body with no effect as was previously believed.”
“One of the obvious health problems that can occur from long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners is weight gain if one assumes that this eliminates the need for moderation and portion control,” Cohen added. “Calories still add up and, as we’ve discussed, these sweeteners can increase the appetite for more sweet foods and create an ongoing cycle.”
“There can also be negative gastrointestinal effects,” she noted. “Sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol are found in a variety of snacks, gums, and candies, and while these seemingly pass through the body unabsorbed, they don’t go unnoticed. Many people with more sensitive GI systems can end up with unpleasant side effects like gas, bloating, and diarrhea from consuming a little or a lot of these sweeteners.”
There are guidelines on how much sugar an individual should consume daily.
However, for non-sugar sweeteners, the information isn’t clear.
“According to the
For non-sugar sweeteners:
“We don’t know [how much artificial sweeteners] is too much, which is part of why these recent WHO recommendations came out,” said Megan Wroe, MS, RD, the wellness manager at the St. Jude Medical Center in California.
“Long-term studies now show no real benefit [for consuming sugar] and some possible harmful effects,” she told Medical News Today. “So non-sugar sweeteners are currently being treated like sugar: there is no benefit and there may be harm if consumed in high amounts, so try to minimize sugars. But what that maximum number is per day? We don’t have that yet.”
“When you eat sugar or artificial sweeteners, you crave more, making it difficult to stop,” Cohen said. “Try using whole fruit as a sweetener when cooking, baking, or adding to cereal or yogurt. I would recommend stevia or monk fruit, but they are still 100 to 400 times sweeter than sugar so less is more.”
The best advice is to minimize sugars and sweeteners from your diet.
Thomason offers these tips to help:
- Focus on eating natural, whole foods, emphasizing lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables first.
- Consider choosing naturally sweet foods such as fruit, yogurt, milk, sweet potatoes, and dried fruits, to satisfy these cravings.
- When you opt for something that has sugar in it, balance the meal with protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber foods.
- Reduce sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Cook more at home. This is an easy way to know what is going into your food and allows you to control the portions.
- Read the label. Consider your food labels “Total Sugar” and the “Added Sugars” sections for the most informed choice.
“The recommendation is to cut back on sugar and non-sugar sweeteners altogether, not to replace them with one another,” Wroe said. “When something truly needs some added sweetness, I recommend choosing a low glycemic, non-artificial sweetener, such as coconut sugar or date syrup. Allulose and monk fruit have less research around them, but I recommend those as well since they are not artificial and have negligible impacts on blood sugar. Raw honey can also be consumed in small portions.”