WHO advises against non-sugar sweeteners like stevia for weight control
Non-sugar sweeteners like stevia should not be taken for weight control or to reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases like diabetes.
Geneva: Non-sugar sweeteners like stevia should not be taken for weight control or to reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, according to a new guideline released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday.
Non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) are low- or no-calorie alternatives to free sugars that are generally marketed as aiding weight loss or maintenance of healthy weight, and are frequently recommended as a means of controlling blood glucose in individuals with diabetes.
Common NSS include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.
The recommendation applies to all people, except individuals with pre-existing diabetes, and “includes all synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that are not classified as sugars found in manufactured foods and beverages, or sold on their own to be added to foods and beverages by consumers”.
“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,” said Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, in a statement.
“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,” Branca added.
High intake of free sugars has been linked to overweight and obesity, which affects nearly 40 per cent of the global adult population and millions of children, and, in turn, diet-related NCDs, which are the leading causes of death worldwide.
The recommendation is based on the findings of a systematic review of the available evidence which suggests that use of NSS does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children.
In addition, the review found that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS, such as an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.
The advise, however, does not apply to personal care and hygiene products containing NSS, such as toothpaste, skin cream, and medications, or to low-calorie sugars and sugar alcohols (polyols), which are sugars or sugar derivatives containing calories and are therefore not considered NSS, the global health body said.