The Stitch

Non-sugar sweeteners don’t help weight maintenance

The World Health Organization recently issued a new guideline regarding non-sugar sweeteners. According to this guideline, the use of non-sugar sweeteners is not recommended for controlling body weight or reducing the risk of noncommunicable diseases.

This recommendation is based on a thorough review of available evidence, which shows that using non-sugar sweeteners does not have any long-term benefits in reducing body fat for both adults and children. The review also suggests that prolonged use of non-sugar sweeteners may have potential negative effects, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even mortality in adults.

A glass filled with fruits like strawberry and watermelon on a table by the ocean.“Individuals who consume diet sodas and rely on sugar substitutes don’t always achieve successful weight loss or maintain a healthy weight,” says Sarah Mahlke, registered dietitian and bariatric surgery program coordinator at the Weight Loss and Metabolic Center at Baylor Medicine. “Instead, people should look for ways to reduce sugar intake, such as eating in moderation. Honor your cravings but eat smaller portions of those sweet foods you crave.”

This new WHO recommendation applies to everyone except individuals with pre-existing diabetes. It includes all types of non-nutritive sweeteners, whether they are synthetic, naturally occurring or modified. These sweeteners are commonly found in manufactured foods and beverages or sold separately for consumers to add to their own foods and drinks. Examples of common non-sugar sweeteners include acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.

The WHO guideline on non-sugar sweeteners is part of a series of existing and upcoming guidelines on healthy diets. These guidelines aim to establish lifelong healthy eating habits, improve dietary quality and reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases worldwide.

Some other ways to reduce your intake of sugar substitutes include eating a balanced meal, reducing sugar slowly and seeking enjoyable alternatives.

“If you eat a balanced meal with protein and complex carbohydrates that include fiber, you’ll feel more satisfied,” Mahlke says. “Incorporate small portions of sweet foods you crave. By allowing ourselves to have the foods we crave in moderation, we can stop obsessing over them.”

If you want to cut back on your intake of non-sugar sweeteners, avoid going cold turkey. Otherwise, you risk falling back into your old pattern. For example, this might mean reducing your daily consumption from three diet sodas to two, and then to one.

If you enjoy sweetened beverages or dislike the taste of plain water, Mahlke recommends trying “spa water,” which involves infusing your favorite fruits into water.

“Different fruits have varying levels of natural sweetness,” she said. “So experiment until you find the combination that suits your taste.”

Another possibility is to replace some of your sweetened beverages or desserts with fruits that have a high-water content, such as watermelon, pineapple or peaches. Whole fruits are also packed with nutrients, providing antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which offer more benefits compared to non-sugar sweeteners.

“The good news is that you can retrain your taste buds by gradually reducing your intake of sugar substitutes and replacing them with natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables and unsweetened beverages,” Mahlke says.

Mahlke also suggests using spices and seasonings like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla and allspice to add flavor to baked goods, plain yogurt, milk, cereal and other foods without relying on non-sugar sweeteners. Additionally, options such as dates, raisins, bananas, mashed berries, applesauce and shredded coconut can provide natural sweetness to a variety of foods and serve as thickeners or toppings.

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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