The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new guidelines that advise against the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) for weight control.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new guidelines that advise against the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) for weight control. NSS has been found to be ineffective in controlling body weight and increases the risk of worsening or developing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension and stroke.

Their research found that there is no evidence that NSS are effective in helping people lose weight or keep it off in the long term. In fact, some studies have shown that NSS may actually lead to weight gain.

"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 intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages. 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," said Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety.

What are non-sugar sweeteners?

Non-sugar sweeteners are artificial or natural substances that are used to sweeten food and beverages without adding sugar. Some common non-sugar sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, and stevia.

Why are non-sugar sweeteners used?

Non-sugar sweeteners are often used in food and beverages that are marketed as being "sugar-free" or "diet". They are also used in some medications and supplements.

Are non-sugar sweeteners safe?

The safety of non-sugar sweeteners has been the subject of much debate. Some studies have shown that non-sugar sweeteners may be linked to health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. However, other studies have found no evidence of harm.

What are the alternatives to non-sugar sweeteners?

There are a number of alternatives to non-sugar sweeteners. Some of these alternatives include:

  • Natural sweeteners: Natural sweeteners are extracted from plants and are often considered to be healthier than artificial sweeteners. Some common natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and molasses.
  • Whole fruits: Whole fruits are a good source of natural sweetness and fibre. They can be eaten fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.
  • Vegetables: Some vegetables, such as carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes, are naturally sweet. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted.
  • Spices: Spices can add flavour to food without adding sweetness. Some common spices that can be used to sweeten food include cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

The WHO also stresses that their recommendation does not apply to personal care and hygiene products containing NSS. Products such as skin creams, medications, or toothpaste that contain sugar alcohols (polyols) that are sugar derivatives containing calories are not considered NSS.

Although non-sugar sweeteners have undergone extensive testing for safety before being approved for consumption, there is a lack of long-term studies to fully understand the potential health effects of prolonged and regular consumption.

These non-sugar sweeteners also have an effect on one's metabolism. Non-sugar sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, which can influence a person's perception of sweetness.

Some studies suggest that consuming these sweeteners may lead to an increased desire for sweet-tasting foods, potentially contributing to overeating and weight gain in the long run. Additionally, there is some evidence that non-sugar sweeteners may affect blood sugar levels and insulin response.

Emerging research also suggests that non-sugar sweeteners may have an impact on the composition and function of the gut microbiota. These trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms reside in one's digestive system and play a crucial role in various aspects of health, including metabolism, immunity, and mental well-being.

While the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved several non-sugar sweeteners for use in food and beverages after evaluating their safety, individuals with specific health conditions, such as phenylketonuria (PKU), should avoid certain types of non-sugar sweeteners due to potential health risks associated with their metabolism.