Who says what about low calorie sweeteners?

By Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, FAND
Who says what about low calorie sweeteners?
For many people, low calorie sweeteners provide the option to add "something sweet" to their food or beverage without consuming real sugar.
January 16, 2015

For many people, low calorie sweeteners provide the option to add "something sweet" to their food or beverage without consuming real sugar.  In the last few years, there has been much discussion about low calorie sweeteners and their use in a healthful eating plan.  This comes despite strong evidence that supports their use and the fact that they’ve been approved by health institutions across the globe and healthfully consumed for more than a century.  A recent study published in the European Journal of Public Health might have added more to the confusion about the use of low calorie sweeteners, but some basic facts can set things straight.

The study reports that dietitians in France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal and the UK are "uncertain, ambivalent and divergent" when it comes to using sweeteners.  The study calls for "clear and authoritative guidance….around sweeteners… [and] ways in which they can be used in dietetic practice" – a conclusion that ignores the many guidelines that do address the use and safety of low calorie sweeteners1.

In April 2014, the International Sweeteners Association hosted more than 120 delegates at their scientific conference, "Why low calories count: the effective use of low calorie sweeteners in today’s diet and lifestyle choices."  Following the one-day conference in Brussels, a number of world-class, multidisciplinary independent experts released a consensus statement on the benefits of low calorie sweeteners.  The consensus statement reviewed the current body of scientific evidence and issued five conclusions:

  1. Low calorie sweeteners do not increase appetite and have no discernible effect on satiety;
  2. Low calorie sweeteners help to reduce energy when used in place of higher energy ingredients;
  3. Low calorie sweeteners can enhance weight loss under real-life conditions when used as part of a behavioral weight loss program;
  4. Low calorie sweeteners may have a beneficial effect on post-prandial glucose and insulin in healthy individuals and in people with diabetes.
  5. Low calorie sweeteners have dental benefits when used in food, beverages, toothpaste and medications, provided other constituents are also non-cariogenic and non-erosive2.

These conclusions are similar to recommendations and conclusions found in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper, "Use of Nutritive and Non-nutritive Sweeteners", as well as outcomes reported in the Evidence Analysis Library of the Academy3, 4.  The position paper states that consumers who want a sweet taste without added energy can choose from seven FDA-approved low calorie sweeteners based on their personal taste preference and the intended use (e.g., for cooking or for tabletop use).  "Non-nutritive sweeteners, when substituted for nutritive sweeteners, may help consumers limit carbohydrate and energy intake as a strategy to manage blood glucose or weight"3.

With a growing focus on obesity, the consumer fear associated with anything sweet, and the push to consume "natural", "fresh" (and many other words that seem to imply "better for you"), the choice to use foods and drinks with low calorie sweeteners might seem difficult.  The scientific evidence however, provides a good review and clear evidence on the safety of low calorie sweeteners, especially as associated with aspartame, which has been more thoroughly reviewed than others.

Registered Dietitians have the responsibility of helping their clients understand the science and translate that science directly to their table.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' position paper on dietitian’s role in providing evidence-based information on the use of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners offers a good conclusion for those searching to learn more on this topic.

  1. Harricharan M, Wills J, Metger N, de Looy A, Barnett J. Dietitian perceptions of low calorie sweeteners. Eur J Public Health. Oct 24.
  2. Gibson S, Drewnowski A, Hill J, Raben AB, Tuorila H, Widstrom E. Nutrition Bulletin 39, 286-289, 2014
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Non-nutritive Sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; 112:739-758.
  4. Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. https://www.andeal.org/ Accessed December 22, 2014.

Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, FAND, is a nutrition communications consultant and Director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  She regularly provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.

Who says what about low calorie sweeteners?

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