WHO Recommends Against Artificial Sweeteners for Weight Loss and Health Benefits

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In its latest guideline, the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions against the use of artificial sweeteners, known as non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), for weight management and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases. The recommendation is based on a comprehensive systematic review of available evidence, revealing that NSS does not provide any long-term benefits in terms of reducing body fat in adults or children. The WHO guideline emphasizes that prolonged use of artificial sweeteners may have potential adverse effects, including an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and overall mortality in adults. The review’s findings suggest that replacing free sugars with NSS does not effectively aid in long-term weight control.

Instead, individuals are advised to explore alternative methods to reduce their intake of free sugars, such as consuming naturally occurring sugars found in fruits or opting for unsweetened food and beverages. The recommendation issued by the WHO applies to the general population, excluding individuals with pre-existing diabetes. It encompasses both synthetic and naturally occurring or modified non-nutritive sweeteners that are not classified as sugars found in processed foods and beverages, as well as those sold separately for consumer addition to foods and beverages. Common examples of non-sugar sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia, and stevia derivatives. A recent study published in the Nature Medicine journal highlighted potential long-term risks associated with artificial sweeteners, particularly erythritol, which was linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Senior author Stanley Hazen, chairman for the department of cardiovascular and metabolic sciences at Cleveland Clinic, emphasized the need for further research into the long-term effects of sweeteners like erythritol. Considering that cardiovascular disease develops gradually and remains the leading cause of death worldwide, Hazen emphasized the importance of ensuring that the foods people consume do not unknowingly contribute to heart disease. Overall, the WHO’s guideline urges individuals to be cautious about the use of artificial sweeteners and to explore healthier alternatives to reduce sugar consumption for long-term weight management and better health outcomes.

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