New WHO Guideline Highlights Lack of Long-Term Benefits and Possible Adverse Effects of Non-Sugar Sweeteners
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new guideline on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), discouraging their use for weight management or reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
Based on a comprehensive review of available evidence, the guideline emphasizes that the long-term consumption of NSS does not offer any significant advantage in reducing body fat for both adults and children. Furthermore, the review suggests that prolonged use of NSS may potentially lead to adverse effects, including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and overall mortality in adults.
Comprehensive Review Shows Potential Undesirable Effects of NSS, Emphasizing the Need for Alternative Sugar Reduction Strategies
Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety, explains, “Replacing free sugars with NSS does not contribute to sustainable weight control. Instead, individuals should explore alternative ways to reduce their free sugar intake, such as consuming naturally sweetened foods like fruits or unsweetened options.”
This recommendation applies to all individuals except those with pre-existing diabetes and encompasses both synthetic and naturally occurring non-nutritive sweeteners, as well as modified varieties. Common examples of NSS include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives.
It is important to note that this guideline does not pertain to personal care products like toothpaste, skin cream, and medications, nor does it include low-calorie sugars or sugar alcohols (polyols) that contain calories and are not classified as NSS.
Given that the observed link between NSS and disease outcomes may be influenced by various factors, including participants’ baseline characteristics and complex patterns of NSS usage, the recommendation is considered conditional. Therefore, policy decisions based on this guideline may require substantial discussions tailored to individual country contexts and different age groups.
This WHO guideline on NSS is part of a broader series of existing and upcoming guidelines on healthy diets. Its goal is to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, enhance dietary quality, and reduce the global burden of NCDs.