The latest research on low calorie sweeteners’ use, benefits and role in the diet were discussed today at the 3rd International Sweeteners Association (ISA) Conference in London, themed “The science behind low calorie sweeteners: where evidence meets policy”. With the mission to inform on the most up-to-date nutritional and scientific information on low calorie sweeteners, the ISA invited 17 internationally renowned experts to share updates on the role of low calorie sweeteners in the diet and in overall health.
- Opening the conference with a keynote speech, Prof Adam Drewnowski, Director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, presented recent studies showing that low calorie sweeteners’ use is related to a higher overall diet quality and can help people meet nutrition recommendations to reduce excess sugar intake.
- During a session on the role of low calorie sweeteners in weight management, current evidence was shown to support the intended benefits of low calorie sweeteners as being helpful in reducing excess calories from sugars and thus in weight loss. Presenting for the first time outcomes of network and pairwise meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials, which provide a better protection against bias, Dr John Sievenpiper, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, concluded that low calorie sweeteners have the intended benefit and clarified that one shouldn’t expect that low calorie sweeteners will cause weight loss by themselves, but can be useful if used to replace sugars leading to a reduction of energy intake over sufficient periods of time.
- A topical subject covered during the third session of the ISA conference was the role of low calorie sweeteners in diabetes management. The discussion evidenced that replacing sugar with low calorie sweeteners can also be a helpful strategy to aid glucose control in people with diabetes. Reviewing all available published data, Dr Hugo Laviada-Molina, a clinical endocrinologist and Professor at the Marist University of Mérida, Mexico, concluded that, “Evidence from human clinical trials confirm that low calorie sweeteners do not affect blood glucose levels and other indexes of glycaemia”. Moreover, addressing the much-debated topic of low calorie sweeteners and gut microbiota, Prof Ian Rowland, Professor at Reading University, UK, concluded that, while frequently discussed in media, current evidence does not support that low calorie sweeteners have adverse effect on insulin sensitivity or on overall health via impact on gut microbiota.
Throughout the day, experts emphasised that the safety of approved low calorie sweeteners has been repeatedly confirmed by regulatory authorities around the world such as the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/ World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Dr Rebeca López-García, an experienced consultant toxicologist from Mexico, noted that “We can be confident about the safety of low calorie sweeteners currently approved for use in foods and beverages, as all sweeteners have undergone rigorous safety evaluations by food safety authorities prior to their approval for use, resulting in the assignment of an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).”
The conference ended with a lively panel discussion aiming at addressing the role of low calorie sweeteners in sugar reduction from a public health perspective. As summarised by the chair of the session, Prof Peter Rogers, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol, UK, the panel speakers concluded that: “By replacing sugars, low calorie sweeteners can be a useful tool for food reformulation and a helpful way, among a pool of other strategies, for managing current issues of public health concern, notably sugar reduction and obesity”.
With this conclusion in mind, the ISA will continue to work, together with other stakeholders, to make sure that positive solutions will be find to the global challenges posed by non-communicable diseases.