Using sugar alternatives for weight loss? New WHO study advises against it
The health benefits of nonsugar sweeteners may not be as great as they are marketed, according to the World Health Organization
The World Health Organization released a new guideline that discourages consumers from using nonsugar sweeteners as a healthier alternative to real sugar. The review advised against using artificial sweeteners as a way to manage body weight, explaining that research has shown the sugar substitutes do not guarantee long-term weight loss.
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal and Stevia are some of the most commonly used substitutes for sugar and are FDA-approved. However, WHO expressed concern that there are potential long-term health risks if overused because they are marketed as healthier.
“Replacing free sugars with (substitutes) 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,” Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety said regarding the new guideline.
He added that the sugar substitutes “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.”
The new guidelines highlighted that people diagnosed with diabetes are not included in their recommendation for restricting sugar substitutes. The study did not include any person with preexisting diabetes, so an assessment could not be made.
The guideline’s main purpose was to explain that although artificial sweeteners are heavily marketed as a diet-friendly alternative to real sugar, they do not produce the positive health benefits that consumers seek.
Nutrition researcher Ian Johnson told CNN, “This new guideline is based on a thorough assessment of the latest scientific literature, and it emphasizes that the use of artificial sweeteners is not a good strategy for achieving weight loss by reducing dietary energy intake.”
He added, “However, this should not be interpreted as an indication that sugar intake has no relevance to weight control. ... Instead, one should cut back on using sugar-sweetened drinks and try to use ‘raw or lightly processed fruit as a source of sweetness.’”
The review consisted of examining 283 studies that found nonsugar substitutes have a minor impact on reducing body weight and calorie intake compared to sugar. It also said that using them consistently over long periods of time could cause an individual to gain health risks such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and increase the risk of mortality in adults.
Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “2 Day Diabetes Diet,” told Health that people should be cautious when taking in new health information that shows only an association and not causation.
“The same population who is already seeking out the use of (sugar substitutes) is the population that may be engaging in other dietary and lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” she said. adding that doesn’t necessarily mean the artificial sweeteners cause the conditions.
Whether using artificial sweetener or real sugar, nutrition experts encourage consumers to limit their intake of sweets for maintaining overall health.