The Role of Sweeteners and its Impact on Health

Obesity is a global crisis. According to the World Health Organisation, 650 million people worldwide were obese in 2016 and the number has been on an upward trend. The Global Nutrition Report 2018 states that no country is on track to reach the adult obesity target, despite the health consequences of overweight and obesity contributing to an estimated 4 million deaths (7.1% of all deaths) across the global population. The rise in obesity is caused by increased sugar consumption, combined with other causative factors including physical inactivity and overconsumption of calories.

With the obesity epidemic, low/non-calorie sweeteners (LNCS) has been on the rise as the attractive alternative to sugar. However, it has also generated concerns from consumers over potential carcinogenicity, weight gain, its effect on glycemic controls and more.

Lawyer and nutritionist Alan Flanagan has eloquently addressed the impact of LNCS on health, providing concrete research and evidence to support his points. In addition to his legal practice, Alan is currently pursuing a Masters in Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey.

Should healthcare professionals recommend LNCS as a means to improve health?

LNCS can certainly be an effective substitution to sugar in foods and beverages, provided those calories are not compensated for elsewhere in the diet. Considering the totality of evidence, it appears that much of the profoundly negative effects surrounding LNCS are exaggerated.

While we cannot definitely say that LNCS are benign, or that there are no long-term consequences for human health from the consumption of LNCS, at current levels of consumption, the use of LNCS does not appear to have any negative impact on human health.

However, the reliance on animal models to inform health risks of human consumption carries a margin of uncertainty, creating a grey area between LNCS and any possible adverse effects.

In his opinion editorial, Alan added that LNCS can be included in the context of overall nutritional best practices. However, he believes that it should be considered “a tool, not a crutch”.

“That is a responsible position stand having regard to the overall literature.”

To read more of Alan’s editorial, click here.

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