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Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mortality… WHO warns against artificial sweeteners

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The WHO warns of the risks associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners. According to scientists, they would not necessarily allow you to lose weight and would present health risks.

Artificial sweeteners – ubiquitous sugar substitutes – do not help you lose weight and can pose long-term health risks, the World Health Organization has warned.

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The results of a systematic review of the available evidence “suggest that the use of these sugar-free sweeteners confers no long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children,” said a statement Monday from the WHO.

She adds that these artificial sweeteners may “have potential adverse effects ‘linked to their long-term use’ such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mortality in adults.

Prioritize “natural sugars”

Replacing sugars with these sweeteners “does not help with long-term weight control. People should consider other ways to reduce their intake of free sugars, such as eating foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruits, or unsweetened foods and beverages,” said Francesco Branca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety.

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Sugar-free sweeteners “are not essential nutrients and have no nutritional value. People should completely reduce sweetness from the diet, starting early in life, to improve their health,” he continued. .

The most commonly used sweeteners are acesulfame potassium, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and its derivatives, explains the WHO, stressing that this recommendation is valid for their use in consumer products and in those sold separately to “sweeten” food.

The recommendation is valid “for everyone with the exception of individuals who suffer from pre-existing diabetes”, further specifies the WHO.

“Sweeteners are not recommended”

The WHO stresses, however, that these are conditional recommendations due to the diversity of participants in the studies on which its conclusions were based, as well as the very great complexity of the consumption habits of sugar-free sweeteners.

Some nutrition experts have pointed out the limits to this work, which is largely based on observational studies that do not allow a direct link to be established between sweeteners and weight control. For Professor Nita Forouhi, of the University of Cambridge, “the use of sweeteners can be part of the means of controlling weight in the short term”. “The key thing to remember is that for long-term weight management and for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, sweeteners are not recommended,” she told the Science Media Center.

The WHO does not take into account the impact of replacing sugary drinks with drinks containing sweeteners, pointed out Tom Sanders, professor emeritus at King’s College London, worrying about a risk of confusion in the minds of population.

The method of calculating the Nutri-Score, the nutritional labeling imposed in France and other European countries, will thus change from the end of 2023, for example, to recommend beverages containing sweeteners less readily.

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