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WHO’s guidelines on Non-Sugar Sweeteners (NSS)


On May 15, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released updated recommendations cautioning against the use of Non-Sugar Sweeteners (NSS) like aspartame, saccharin, stevia, and other derivatives as a “healthy” substitute for sugar. WHO’s has released conditional” guidelines. Non-sugar sweeteners shouldn’t be used to regulate weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases linked to diet. Customers started using NSS as a replacement after the WHO announced in 2015 that a diet high in free sugars is linked to weight gain and obesity.

Non Sugar Sweatners

Non-sugar sweeteners

Non-sugar sweeteners are also known as artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes. These are substances used to sweeten foods and beverages while providing little to no calories. They are often used as alternatives to sugar. People who want to reduce their calorie or sugar intake, manage weight, or control blood sugar levels, use NSS. Here are a few commonly used non-sugar sweeteners:

  • Aspartame: It is a low-calorie sweetener. it is used in a variety of products. it includes diet sodas, sugar-free chewing gums, and table top sweeteners etc.
  • Saccharin: It is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners and is used in various food and beverage products. It is often found in diet soft drinks, canned fruits, and tabletop sweeteners.
  • Sucralose: it is a calorie-free sweetener that has a sweetness level 600 times greater than sugar. Various things, such as drinks, baked goods, and dairy products, frequently include sucralose.
  • Stevia: Stevia is a plant-based sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is considered a natural non-sugar sweetener and is used in many food and beverage products.

WHO’s findings:

The WHO analysed 283 research in all that looked at adult and child NSS consumption. It included studies that compared NSS consumption with no or lower doses of NSS consumption as well as trials that compared the intervention with any type of sugar, placebo, plain water or no intervention.

  • According to the WHO, “higher intake” of NSS associates with a 76% increase in the risk of obesity and an increase in BMI of 0.14 kg/m2.
  • In the end, there is no evidence that adult or children body fat reduces over the long term.
  • The use of NSS over an extended period of time may raise the risk of:
    • Type 2 diabetes,
    • Cardiovascular disease,
    • Chronic renal disease, and
    • Cancer

Exception according to WHO: People with diabetes and doses taken under a doctor’s prescription in small amounts are exempt from the recommendation.

Significance: Guidelines issued to prevent unrestricted consumption of artificially sweetened products like chocolates and colas. Since, consumers tend to overindulge in these with a perception that they may be better than sugary products.”

Major concerns:

  • According fifth National Family Health Survey, one in nine women and one in 25 men in India are obese. Thus the country should take the required efforts to inform people about the NSS. People who are obese are more likely to get diabetes. According to WHO statistics, there are an estimated 25 million persons in India who have pre-diabetes.
  • The rise in obesity rates and associated diseases like diabetes attributes to various factors, including lifestyle choices, dietary habits, and sedentary behaviors.
  • Mithal, Max Healthcare Hospital, points out harmful effects of artificial sweeteners. They effect the gut and bones and that they cause bloating.

WHO’s nutritional advice:

  • It is impossible to consider the impact of sweeteners in isolation when it comes to weight loss studies. According to WHO, it is impossible to consider the impact of sweeteners in isolation regarding weight loss studies.
  • Simply replacing free sugars in diet with NSS means that it does not affect the overall quality of the diet. This is due to the fact that highly processed foods and drinks with unsatisfactory nutritional profiles frequently include free sugars.
  • It suggests using lightly processed, unsweetened meals and beverages as an alternative. WHO discovers that some participants’ weight reduction do not totally ascribe to switching from sweets to NSS. Since it also depended on consuming less calories from meals or smaller portions.

The WHO advises that the efforts need to be undertaken to modify eating habits and taste preferences, with an emphasis on children. Before deciding to make this ‘conditional’ advice a national policy, the Ministry of Health must start conversations with decision-makers.

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