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WHO discourages use of non-sugar sweeteners for weight control

WHO says sweeteners increase risk of diabetes

WHO says sweeteners increase risk of diabetes

Long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) as a means of controlling body weight will lead to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or even death especially among adults, World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The recommendation is based on an extensive systematic review of the available evidence, which indicates that the long-term consumption of NSS does not confer any substantial benefits in terms of reducing body fat in both adults and children.

Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, underscores that substituting free sugars with NSS does not lead to long-term weight control.

“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,” Branca said. 

Branca further emphasizes that NSS possess no nutritional value and are not considered essential dietary components. Consequently, to enhance overall health, individuals are advised to gradually reduce the overall sweetness in their diets from an early stage of life.

WHO's recommendation applies to all individuals, with the exception of those with pre-existing diabetes. It encompasses the full range of synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners present in processed foods and beverages, or marketed separately for consumer use. 

Prominent examples of NSS include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives. The guideline explicitly excludes personal care and hygiene products containing NSS, such as toothpaste, skin cream, and medications.

Furthermore, low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols) are not classified as non-sugar sweeteners since they contain calories and thus do not fall under the scope of this recommendation. 

"Because the link observed in the evidence between NSS and disease outcomes might be confounded by baseline characteristics of study participants and complicated patterns of NSS use, the recommendation has been assessed as conditional, following WHO processes for developing guidelines", the statement reads in part. 

The conditional nature of this recommendation highlights that policy decisions based on the guidelines may necessitate extensive deliberation within specific country contexts, accounting for factors such as NSS consumption patterns across various age groups. 

It is noteworthy that the WHO's NSS guideline forms part of a comprehensive set of existing and forthcoming guidelines on healthy diets, aiming to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, enhance dietary quality, and mitigate the risk of non-communicable diseases.

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