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Recognition that non-sugar sweeteners are not healthy

BANT welcomes the new guidelines published by the World health Organisation (WHO) in which they recommend against the use of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), also commonly referred to as non-nutritive sweeteners (artificial sweeteners and alternatives that contain zero or very low amounts of carbohydrates or energy).

A 2022 article published by BANT, The truth about sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners, detailed the misconception that non-nutritive sweeteners are a ‘healthier’ alternative to sugar when they are in fact associated with the risk of T2D, CVDs, and all-cause mortality. BANT is pleased to see the WHO findings reflect the same science and conclude that NSS do not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children and may lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.

BANT Director, Isabel Hemmings, who supports nutritional interventions for prevention and management of Type 2 Diabetes says “these guidelines are very welcome at a time when diet-induced disease continues to rise and the number of people living with diabetes has recently surpassed 5 million for the first time”. The guidance on NNS’s has not been clear. Consumers have been misled, believing them to be healthy, and unaware that they may be worsening their condition and be detrimental to their overall health”.

BANT maintains its position that NNS consumption is compounded by multiple factors which include a) lack of regulation of NNS in ultra-processed foods b) labelling loopholes which allow manufacturers to pass NNS as healthy alternatives to sugar and/or substitute sugars with other ingredients masquerading as sugars such as modified starches (typically made using corn, wheat, or potato) and c) different and inconsistent definitions of what constitutes added and free sugars, for example, the WHO definition differs to the free sugar definition used by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s (SACN) in the UK. BANT has previously submitted concerns about SACN’s highly selective criteria regarding T2DM and low carbohydrate diets – where sugar is a central consideration.

Current SACN guidelines recommend no more than x7 teaspoons of sugar daily for adults, equivalent to 30g, and less for teenagers and children (3,4) which differs to WHO sugar recommendations of max. 5 to 10 teaspoons of free sugar per day or less than 10% of daily energy intake. Adherence to these Public Health recommendations, depending on which guidelines you follow, are low between 3% and 15% to SACN guidelines and 25% and 54% to WHO guidelines. BANT hopes these latest guidelines will help individuals make more informed decisions about NNS and recognise them as non-healthy alternatives to sugar.

BANT echoes the words of Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety. “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.”

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