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WHO Advises Against the Use of Artificial Sweeteners – Here's Why

The recommendation applies to all synthetic and naturally occurring sweeteners that are not classified as sugars.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 15 May, Tuesday, released a new guideline recommending against the use of NSS (non-sugar sweeteners) by everyone except those with diabetes.

Which type of sweeteners should be avoided? Here's what the report says.

Why should you care: The WHO circles out the use of artificial sweeteners for the purpose of weight loss, and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and says there is no evidence that long term use is effective for either.

Moreover, a systematic review of available research suggests prolonged use could pose health risks in adults like,

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Some common NSS found in packaged foods and beverages include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.

Between the lines: The recommendation is specifically meant for artificial sweeteners found in manufactured foods and beverages, or sold on their own.

It 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 not considered NSS.

The guidelines also underscores that this recommendation does not apply to individuals with pre-existing diabetes.

What they are saying: "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.

"NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value."
Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety

The big picture: There have been multiple debates in the past regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners. While some studies have suggested links to potential health dangers, others have found them fairly harmless.

The WHO says the evidence they looked at may be influenced by a number of variables, and so the guidelines based on them should be looked as a recommendation.

This means that individual countries while making policy decisions may take the WHO's recommendation into account, but is not under any obligation to do so, either. They suggest policy decision be made taking into account specific country contexts.

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