boost your healthspan with food and nutrition

The WHO calls out non-sugar sweeteners

The WHO calls out non-sugar sweeteners

It’s shocking to think I might agree with the WHO. Well, color me shocked. The WHO recently released guidelines on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), advising people to stop using them. The WHO Director of Nutrition and Food Safety said:

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.

Francesco Branca, WHO Director of Nutrition and Food Safety

Bravo! That last sentence is something I’ve been advising for years. Stop with all the sweetness. Why does every food and beverage have to come with a hit of sweetness? Not just obvious foods like ice cream or cake or soft drinks. Cereals, salad dressing, bread, snack chips. The list goes on. The end result is that a person starts to think foods that lack sweetness taste bad.

I have to admire the WHO for publishing this advisory. The NSS industry is huge (you could refer to it as N$$). There is sure to be pushback. Of course, the usual suspects argue that the FDA says these sweeteners are “safe”. Meaning you won’t be poisoned and they probably don’t cause cancer. What the FDA does not say is that NSS are effective at helping people lose weight, or that everyone is entitled to flood their tastebuds with sweets all day every day.

The WHO advisory does not apply to people with diabetes, who need to avoid sugars. The guidelines are targeted at people who use NSS for weight control. The WHO reviewed evidence and concluded that NSS don’t help with weight management, and in fact might increase risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

More sweetener concerns

Meanwhile research published just a couple of weeks ago shows that sucralose, the ubiquitous “natural” sweetener, may have a damaging effect on gut microbes and the gut lining. Sucralose is metabolized to another molecule — sucralose-6-acetate — which damages DNA. The lead researcher had this to say:

It’s time to revisit the safety and regulatory status of sucralose because the evidence is mounting that it carries significant risks. If nothing else, I encourage people to avoid products containing sucralose… It’s something you should not be eating.

Susan Schiffman, PhD, adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University

This study will also inevitably be criticized by the NSS industry because “the FDA says sucralose is safe!” Meaning not poison and won’t cause cancer. What the FDA did not investigate was potential for DNA damage or damage to the gut.

Lose the sweetness

We’ve been told to ditch the sugar for years. What we really need to do is ditch the sweetness addiction. Why does everything have to be sweetened? If you’ve trained your taste buds to always expect sweetness, you can’t appreciate the complex flavors of vegetables or grains or nuts. This is especially pernicious when it comes to children. They don’t know any better; adults choose their foods and beverages. If everything is sweet, they won’t learn to like foods that aren’t sweet. They grow into adults who expect sweetness everywhere.

Weight loss diets are all about NSS. It’s as if you can’t possibly get through the day without sweet foods and drinks. Of course, the choice is non-sugar sweeteners. In the decades since these sweeteners took over our food supply, obesity has only gotten worse. Hmmm, coincidence?

The best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid sweetened foods and beverages. You don’t need any of these every day. If you only very occasionally have sweets, you can have something with real sugar, honey, agave or maple syrup.


Related Posts

Erythritol – should you be concerned

Erythritol – should you be concerned

Until last week, the non-caloric sweetener erythritol was not on anyone’s radar screen. But recent research reports linked high levels of erythritol in blood to increased risk for heart attacks and stroke. Valid concern? Or a nothing burger? Erythritol 101 Erythritol is a sugar alcohol […]

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Healthy Gut Microbes

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Healthy Gut Microbes

I was chatting with a friend recently about protein. She was concerned that it’s hard to pack protein into meals, and that her husband was drinking a protein shake. I replied that it was probably sweetened — plain protein powder isn’t very appetizing — and […]