Nairobi News


Don’t use sugar substitutes for weight loss, WHO advises

World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against the use of sugar substitutes for weight loss. The WHO’s guidance, based on a systematic review of current evidence, states that non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) do not provide a long-term benefit in reducing body fat for adults or children.

“Replacing free sugars with non-sugar sweeteners does not help people control their weight long-term,” said Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s department of nutrition and food safety. Branca said that while there is a mild reduction in body weight in the short term, it isn’t sustained.

The review also listed potential undesirable effects from long-term use of sugar substitutes, including a slightly increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, Branca clarified, “this recommendation is not meant to comment on safety of consumption.”

Nutrition researcher Ian Johnson, emeritus fellow at Quadram Institute Bioscience, has also echoed WHO’s findings.

“The use of artificial sweeteners is not a good strategy for achieving weight loss by reducing dietary energy intake,” he said.

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The WHO’s guidance has been met with criticism from industry representatives. Dr Keith Ayoob, scientific adviser for the Calorie Control Council, called the WHO’s focus on prevention of unhealthy weight gain and non-communicable diseases “misguided.”

Robert Rankin, president of the same council, argued that low- and no-calorie sweeteners can be critical tools for managing body weight and reducing disease risk.

The WHO’s recommendation is primarily aimed at government health organizations, to inform policy changes. The guidance is based on 283 studies, including both randomized controlled trials and observational studies, which found only a “low” impact on body weight reduction and no change in markers of diabetes when using NSS compared to sugar.

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The recommendation covered both synthetic and natural sweeteners, including acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and its derivatives, and monkfruit.

Branca suggested that people can learn to reduce their dependence on both free sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners.

“We need to recommend to parents to avoid building that sweetness interest in young children — that’s a very important action to take.”

Registered dietitian Lisa Drayer advises gradually cutting back on sugar and incorporating more protein and fiber-rich foods to curb sugar cravings. She also suggests choosing no-sugar-added foods, avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks, and reading nutrition facts labels carefully to identify hidden sugars.

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