The agency noted that the advice is not a recommendation to eat more real sugar instead, but to reduce the overall sweetness of the daily diet.
“People should consider other ways to reduce their intake of free sugars, such as eating foods containing natural sugars, such as fruit, or unsweetened foods and drinks,” says WHO director Francesco Branca. for nutrition and food security.
Sugar substitutes “have no nutritional value,” Branca added. “People should completely reduce the sweetness of the diet, starting early in life, to improve their health.”
The recommendation applies to all people except people with pre-existing diabetes, who may still benefit from using sugar substitutes.
The guidelines target the individual packets of sweeteners that people sprinkle in their morning coffee as well as the range of sugar substitutes that food companies are increasingly adding to processed foods and drinks, including breads, cereals, yogurts and snack bars.
Common sugar-free sweeteners named by the WHO include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.
The Calorie Control Council, a food industry group, said in a statement that it strongly disagrees with the WHO recommendation and that the safety of sugar-free sweeteners has been firmly established. He claimed that low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners have been proven to help with weight management, promote oral health, and help reduce calorie and sugar intake.
The recommendation “does not provide a complete picture of the efficacy of these ingredients and has the potential to negatively impact public health,” the council statement said.
Scientists believed that non-nutritive sweeteners were largely inert and the main benefit was to help people cut calories from their daily diet. But more recent research suggests that fake sugars may have a deleterious effect on health.
One study found that sugar substitutes caused changes in both the function and composition of the gut microbiome, the communities of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in the intestines.
A large study published in the BMJ found that a high intake of artificial sweeteners increased the risk of cardiovascular problems such as stroke and coronary heart disease.
The WHO noted that its recommendation is “conditional” because a number of factors, including differences in the health status of study participants, may have influenced some of the conclusions.
The Calorie Control Council grabbed the “conditional” label, noting that the classification is used when the evidence supporting the guidelines is “considered less certain”.
“A substantial body of evidence shows that low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners offer effective and safe options for reducing sugar and calorie intake,” said Robert Rankin, chairman of the board. “Along with exercise and a healthy diet, low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners are an essential tool that can help consumers manage their body weight and reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases.”
The WHO said its recommendation does not apply to personal care and hygiene products containing sugar-free sweeteners, such as toothpaste, skin cream and medicines.
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