Low/Non-Calorie Sweeteners: Promoting Science-Based Evidence

There is growing concern among healthcare professionals, international organisations, policymakers and consumers about the consumption of sugar. Concerns around sugar in our diet have overtaken fat and salt, and with the pressing need to reduce unhealthy levels of sugar consumption among consumers, the food & beverage (F&B) industry has invested much of its efforts and resources in developing low calories sugar alternatives.

With rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes reaching epidemic proportions, low and non-calorie sweeteners (LNCS) can be a useful alternative allowing consumers to enjoy sweet taste with practically no calories. LNCS enable food manufacturers to provide a wide variety of food products with varying caloric values and taste profiles. Being amongst the most thoroughly researched ingredients worldwide, with scientific studies and food safety authorities consistently confirming their safety, low calorie sweeteners can be used in place of sugar as part of a balanced diet.

While LNCS could serve as good alternatives to sugar, their collective reputation has constantly been challenged with alleged associations for causing weight gain and cancers, in spite of current scientific findings suggesting otherwise. This negative narrative is mainly influenced by misinformation and pseudo-science. In light of how they are the subject of intense public debate and scrutiny, Food Industry Asia (FIA) has set out to build a platform for wide-ranging evidence-based narratives around sweeteners and sugars.

Mr Bartholomeusz moderating the panel discussion on LNCS as a viable alternative to reduce sugar in products with some of the key experts on the topic.

An FIA white paper, titled “The Case for a Little Sweetness: The Role of Low/Non-Calorie Sweeteners on Health”, serves to do just that, by debunking the health and safety-related myths sweeteners have been commonly linked with. It is the first in a series of communication tools FIA is developing with subject matter experts, to explore how sweeteners impact diet and health.

As part of its efforts to address the misinformation that has driven the negative reputation of LNCS, FIA recently organised a seminar on “Sweeteners – Innovative ingredients for a better health” in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in New Delhi, attended by over 60 representatives from the food industry and local policymakers and regulators.

Mr Bartholomeusz (centre) with Mr Arun Kumar Sharma and Dr Ashley Roberts during the panel discussion at the seminar on Innovative Ingredients for a Better Health

Dr Ashley Roberts, Senior Vice President Food and Nutrition Health, Environmental & Regulatory Services (HERS) Intertek/International Food Additives Council, highlighted the safety of LNCS in his presentation and reiterated that sweeteners go through intensive safety evaluations by global and in country regulators, before they are deemed safe for use.

Dr Maia Jack Vice President, Science and Regulatory Affairs, American Beverage Association, mentioned that LNCS currently available, had to go through rigorous safety assessments and highlighted that a lot of the misinformation alleging that sweeteners are carcinogenic were based on lab experiments conducted on rats many years ago, and that new studies and science-based evidence had disproved this myth.

Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, FIA’s Policy Director, speaking at the event

Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, FIA’s Policy Director, spoke about the need to look at science-based evidence in making policy decisions concerning the use of sweeteners. Mr Bartholomeusz pointed out that the safety of LNCS has been assessed and approved by a number of regulatory institutions worldwide, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), prior to their use in foods.

Mr Bartholomeusz, then moderated an interesting panel discussion where representatives from the FSSAI Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings aids and materials in contact with food as well as FSSAI Scientific panel on labelling and claims as well as Dr Roberts and Dr Jack debated the need to ensure that science-based evidence was needed to inform policy-making decisions related to the use of LNCS. The representatives from the FSSAI informed the participants that there was work underway in India around standards as well as the identification of LNCS.

During the panel session, the majority of questions raised by the audience, concerned the safety of sweeteners as well as questions related to their use in supporting sugar reduction. Due to the concerns that continue to be raised around the safe use of LNCS, FIA plans to conduct further information sharing sessions in India and other parts of Asia on this topic.

The upcoming information sharing session will be held on 23 August 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Click here for more details.

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