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Five myths and facts about low or no calorie sweeteners

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Low and no calorie sweeteners (LNCS) have existed and been studied since the mid-1840s. Despite being long-studied substances that count with numerous evidence to support their safety and efficacy, there is still a lot of misinformation surrounding them.

Child drinking from glass of low or no calorie sweetened cordial

Misinterpretation of studies has contributed to generating mistrust and affects acceptance by some consumers. With growing rates of obesity and diabetes worldwide, tools like LNCS are important if we are to tackle these societal challenges.

Therefore, we're clarifying myths with evidence-based information to help make consumers aware of the potential benefits of LNCS and enables them to make better food choices.

1) LNCS are safe for consumption

Fact.

All LNCS that are approved for use by various health authorities worldwide have been through thorough safety evaluation and confirmed as safe for human consumption. They are only granted approval after rigorous assessments carried out by authorities such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). LNCS are approved to be consumed within ADIs – Acceptable Daily Intakes.

ADI is a conservative measure of the amount of a specific substance in food or drink that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without an appreciable health risk. They are usually expressed in milligrams of the substance per kilograms of body weight per day. Because of their intense sweetening power, several hundred to several thousand times sweeter than sugar, these sweeteners can be used in very small amounts and thus it is unlikely that anyone will exceed the ADI value, especially in a consistent manner throughout their life.

2) Is it better for health to consume LNCS of natural origin than artificial ones?

Myth.

Given a choice, most people gravitate toward the natural foods or ingredients over the artificial and, more recently, the consumer tendency to look for natural alternatives seems to have reached new heights. Yet it needs to be said loud and clear: just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s better than something that is not, which is highlighted by the fact that various regulators have approved the use of both natural and artificial LNCS.

All foods and food ingredients, whether natural or artificial, ultimately consist of chemicals,for example: vitamin C - an essential nutrient - consists of ascorbic acid. Regulators ensure that natural and artificial foods and food ingredients are handled safely by our bodies. It is more a matter of choice by those who will consume it, based on personal preferences especially related to the taste of the different alternatives available in the market.

3) LCNS are useful in diabetes / glycaemic response management

Fact.

Managing the glycaemic response is a well-established benefit of LNCS as evidenced by scientific research. EFSA, the European body which many countries look to when developing food policy, published a positive opinion on the benefits of LNCS and glycaemic control1.

LNCS are recommended by specialist professional associations worldwide, such as American Diabetes Association and World Health Organization, as a replacement for sugar for people with diabetes to help control their sugar intake and to help manage blood glucose.

4) Can low and no calorie sweeteners cause weight gain?

Myth.

The weight of scientific evidence shows that the use of LNCS can be a useful dietary tool to support healthy body weight. As LNCS provide few or no calories, when LNCS are used to replace sugar, they can help manage body weight because there is a net significant caloric decrease in overall calories consumed. Meta-analyses have shown that the use of LNCS favours the reduction of body mass index, fat mass and waist circumference4,5.

5) The best LNCS is based on individual preference

Fact.

The choice of a LNCS should take into account individual preferences related to taste and convenience, along with performance in different recipes, among other aspects. A great tip is to try different types of LNCS until you can identify which one suits you best.


By Dr. Leila Hashimoto
Nutritionist with a PhD in Food Science from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of São Paulo (FCP-USP), Brazil.

Dr. Hashimoto has 10 years of work experience in laboratory research, including participation in projects with diabetes and nutritional genomics. She is a speaker, scientific consultant and author of scientific publications.


References:

1. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA); Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to intense sweeteners and contribution to the maintenance or achievement of a normal body weight (ID 1136, 1444, 4299), reduction of post‐prandial glycaemic responses (ID 4298), maintenance of normal blood glucose concentrations (ID 1221, 4298), and maintenance of tooth mineralisation by decreasing tooth demineralisation (ID 1134, 1167, 1283) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2011; 9(6):2229. [26 pp.].
2. Miller PE, Perez V. Low-calorie sweeteners and body weight and composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;100(3):765-77. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.082826. Epub 2014 Jun 18. PMID: 24944060; PMCID: PMC4135487.
3. Nichol AD, Holle MJ, An R. Glycemic impact of non-nutritive sweeteners: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Clin Nutr 2018; 72: 796-804
4. Rogers PJ, Hogenkamp PS, de Graaf C, et al. Does low-energy sweetener consumption affect energy intake and body weight? A systematic review, including meta-analyses, of the evidence from human and animal studies. Int J Obes (Lond) 2016; 40: 381-94
5. Laviada-Molina H, Molina-Segui F, Pérez-Gaxiola G, Cuello-García C, Arjona-Villicaña R, Espinosa-Marrón A, Martinez-Portilla RJ. Effects of nonnutritive sweeteners on body weight and BMI in diverse clinical contexts: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2020 Jul;21(7):e13020.
6. Tucker RM, Tan SY. Do non-nutritive sweeteners influence acute glucose homeostasis in humans? A systematic review. Physiol Behav 2017; 182: 17-26


Related links:

The Nutrition Centre

The role of low and no calorie sweeteners in promoting health

The role of low and no calorie sweetening ingredients in promoting health - brochure

Our sweetener expertise

Our work in sugar and calorie reduction


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