After years of research, there’s still only very weak evidence that no-cal sweeteners might be beneficial, according to German researchers who looked over data from 56 studies involving either adults or children.
The report was funded by the World Health Organization and was published online Jan. 2, 2019 in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
Health outcomes on sugar vs sweeteners
The investigators looked at a variety of health outcomes including weight, blood sugar, oral health, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, mood and behaviour.
“Most health outcomes did not seem to have differences between the non-sugar sweetener exposed and unexposed groups,” concluded the team led by Joerg Meerpohl of the University of Freiburg.
The quantity of non-sugar sweetener used didn’t seem to matter, either, the team added.
They also studied children, as well as adults, and no evidence was found in weight gain between those who used non-sugar sweeteners or sugar, the research showed.
There was also no evidence of any effect of non-sugar sweeteners on overweight or obese adults or children who were actively trying to lose weight.
A nutritionist’s view
Nutritionists like Patrick Holford and health professionals have often referred to the fact that sweeteners can be as big a health problem as sugar. A registered dietitian, Sharon Zarabi, certainly wasn’t surprised by the findings.
“No matter how they are marketed, [non-sugar sweeteners] are still chemicals or a sugar modified from its natural form to serve a functional purpose for flavour and there is no health benefit to flavour. It merely enhances a food or beverage to increase consumption.” Zarabi directs the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Zarabi said she’s seen no help from calorie-free sweeteners in her practice, however, and even potential harm.
“I work with a wide variety of patients with health ailments. I have those suffering with anorexia drinking Diet Coke all day unable to gain a pound, and obese diabetics drinking the same beverage with out-of-control blood sugar levels and difficulty losing weight,”
“It’s not specifically the diet soda (made with alternative sweeteners) that’s responsible for their health outcomes, more so it’s the other sources of calories and sugar,” Zarabi said. “You must look at the whole diet and lifestyle to conclude any sufficient evidence of sugars, nutritive or not, and effect on disease.”
A group representing sugar-free sweetener makers disputed the findings, however but Meerpohl’s team also did not rule out that non-sugar sweeteners might still show some benefit in future trials. They believe better, longer studies are needed to determine once and for all that these products are a safe and effective alternative to sugar.
This is a subject that arouses much debate, both for and against, but what is certainly true is that reducing sugar and sweeteners alike in your diet would definitely be a health step in the right direction.