According to the World Health Organization, those who are trying to lose weight should avoid sugar alternatives, such as natural and artificial sweeteners like stevia and aspartame. They’ve issued the recommendation after conducting a systemic review of more than 280 studies involving the use of sugar alternatives in children, adults, and pregnant women.
Not only have they not been shown to help with weight loss in adults and children long-term, but their use can actually lead to various side effects such as increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and death.
Francesco Branca, the WHO director for food safety and nutrition, said in a statement that people need to consider other methods to reduce sugar intake, such as consuming unsweetened food and beverages or consuming food with naturally occurring sugars such as fruit. She also emphasized that non-sugar sweeteners are not essential and have no nutritional value.
Currently, the WHO defines artificial sweeteners as “all naturally occurring, synthetic, or modified sweeteners that are not classified as sugars that are often found in manufactured foods and beverages”.
The only exception, according to the World Health Organization, is for those with pre-existing diabetes.
In recent years, however, non-sugar sweeteners have become increasingly common in “diet” foods and soft drinks, in response to the growing obesity epidemic. While they have been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not much is known about their long-term effects on health.
At least one study, however, has found that these low-calorie sugar alternatives change the microbiome of the gut, which normally protects us from disease. Last year, the health effects of aspartame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose were tested and published in the medical journal Cell.
At the end of the day, the best sweetener to use is none at all. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends individuals drastically lower the amount of sugar consumed every day to help lower the risk of heart disease and obesity and to consume more whole foods such as vegetables and fruits.
Currently, the US Dietary Guidelines recommend those above the age of two limit their sugar intake to less than 10 percent of their total calories per day. Children under the age of two are advised not to consume any sugars at all.
Despite that, the average American consumes more than 30 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is equivalent to over 500 calories.
Individuals who are obese or overweight are at a higher risk of a number of health conditions including stroke, cancer, gall bladder disease, heart disease, osteoarthritis, as well as mental health issues.