Something is going to change when the World Health Organization (WHO) issues its recommendations on the use of sweeteners this year. These products are experiencing booming economic moments, mainly due to the fact that their children have tripled over the past two decades (data from the United States), following evidence that they associate sugar with overweight, obesity, metabolic disease and there to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risks. There are very strong reasons for reducing sugar consumption and triggered the sale of food and soft drinks with saccharin, aspartame, stevia, advantamo or any other artificial sweetener of the ten days available in the catalog. Refreshing zero or zero refreshments, replacing sugar for a combination of low calorie sweeteners, are living their golden age in Western countries. Maybe, however, things will change in 12 months when the WHO rules out, as you can read stuff.
For the time being, the WHO has ordered a group of scientists a comprehensive review of the 56 investigations that have been made about the health benefits of sweeteners, sometimes compared to sugar, others compared to placebo. And the effects are very modest. It is true that there is a slight decrease in weight, with little more than one kilogram on average, possibly related to the abandonment of sugar, although it is not clear that this thinning is stable in the long run. There is also a slight decrease in blood pressure, although only in overweight adults. Sweeteners were quick to highlight these effects. Essential issues – glycemia, dental caries, cancer, liver disease, eating behavior – do not have a significant impact when sugar is replaced with sweeteners. With these factors, it is unlikely that WHO recommends the use of these products. Experts, however, point out that more studies are needed before issuing a conclusive opinion.
This does not mean in any way that you have to go back to sugar. The recommendation to reduce sugar intake is based on very solid data. What is happening is that replacing it with sweeteners, like in zero drinks, does not seem to be a big deal. The best substitute for sugar-based soft drinks is none other than water.
The result of these investigations is somewhat surprising. If sweeteners do not have a negative effect on health, as it seems, simply reducing the consumption of sugar associated with their use should definitely have a clear positive effect. But this is not the case, and this can be due to a variety of factors. Microbes that live in the gut, for example, change their relative percentages in response to diet, and perhaps sweeteners affect the intestinal flora in a way that compensates for the beneficial effects of calorie reduction. The brain can also contain a key because sweeteners and sugar do not have the same effect on brain regions that manage pleasure, reward, and energy requirements.
At the end of the year we will see. Meanwhile, drink water.