Why the WHO is strengthening its warning on sugar substitutes

food browser reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) draft guideline advises against the consumption of nutritive sweeteners for a number of reasons. It says these sweeteners are often used in foods with poor nutrient profiles and often replace more nutrient dense options. Individuals can consume diet soda instead of low-fat milk, for example.

The Harvard Medical School notes that nutritious sweeteners are much more potent than sugar or high fructose corn syrup. This potency can alter our perception of taste and make nutrient-dense foods like fruit taste bland in comparison.

The WHO also noted that while sugar substitutes may be helpful for short-term weight loss, they also carry other long-term risks. He cites systematic meta-analyses that have shown that nutritious sweeteners tend to coincide with weight gain and high BMI over long-term periods. He also noted that although the evidence was limited, some data showed an increased risk of “type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality in adults”. The American Heart Association notes that some people may use dieting or calorie-free options as a way to justify eating high-calorie foods later in the day as a “reward” for their “healthier” choices.

Dr Rachel Cheatham, founder of food and nutrition consultancy FoodScape Group, told Food Navigator that this guideline is not a condemnation of sugar substitutes. Instead, individuals should understand that these sweeteners may not be as beneficial to healthy eating as previously thought.

Rachel J. Bradford