Health

WHO urges avoiding non-sugar sweeteners for weight loss

According to new World Health Organization guidance, using non-sugar sweeteners like sucralose and stevia might cause more harm than good.

Artificial sweetener in a wooden spoon.
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The World Health Organization issued updated guidance on Monday recommending against using non-sugar sweeteners to manage weight. 

Although experts recommend limiting sugar, using artificial sweeteners might not be any better. 

The WHO said the guidance comes after reviewing evidence that suggests using artificial sweeteners to manage weight does not have any long-term benefit in reducing fat in adults and children. Worse, the review found that non-sugar sweeteners increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults. 

Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Nature found a link in the sugar replacement erythritol to various health issues, including stroke, blood clotting, heart attack and even death. 

Last year, a French study published in the BMJ suggested an association between higher artificial sweetener consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The study noted the risk was highest among those who consume aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose.

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"Replacing free sugars with NSS (non-sugar sweeteners) 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,” says Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food Safety. "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."

The WHO’s recommendation applies to everyone except for those with pre-existing diabetes. Examples of artificial sweeteners the WHO advises against include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.

In its updated guidance, the WHO said that replacing free sugars with natural sweeteners like fruit is a preferred alternative. 

The WHO noted that how the public consumes non-sugar sweeteners is a major factor, as people may add foods and beverages to their diet and believe foods containing artificial sweeteners are “healthier.” The WHO said that there is evidence that people who consume non-sugar sweeteners consume more calories than those who do not. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting added sugar intake to 12 teaspoons a day. The CDC said U.S. adults average 17 teaspoons a day of added sugar.