The Role of Artificial Sweeteners on Health

It is no surprise that many people are fond of sugar and sweet foods. We’ve been accustomed to having sweet treats as an incentive, or for celebratory occasions in most parts of the world. 

In Asia, Singaporeans could not begin to imagine celebrating Chinese New Year without indulging in sweet and buttery pineapple tarts. Even the savoury barbequed meat known as bak kwa is brushed with a sweet garnish. Similarly, the vast majority of Indonesians celebrate weddings or the breaking of fast during Ramadan by eating kueh lapis

As the increasing number of people who consume more sugary foods coincides with growing obesity rates, the public has raised concerns over the link between obesity, its comorbidities and the overconsumption of sugar. To curb the growing appetite for sugar, the demand for ingredients that impart sweetness with significantly less, or no calories, has resulted in the innovation of low/non-calorie sweeteners (LNCS), which are also referred to as artificial sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, or sugar substitutes.

While LNCS could be a good alternative to sugar, the reputation of LNCS has constantly been challenged. Among other claims, LNCS have been linked to weight gain and associated with some types of cancer, despite current scientific findings suggesting otherwise. For example, the supposed association between LNCS and certain cancers was a conclusion drawn from a series of animal experiments. When the same experiments were conducted on humans, it revealed that these sweeteners were not linked with cancer risks, and did not cause any harm when the consumption levels of sweeteners were kept within the recommended acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels1.  In fact, LNCS can help with sugar reduction and calorie intake without compromising on the taste profile of a food product, while also aiding in weight and glucose management, as well as dental health, when used judiciously2 .

The Case for A Little Sweetness: The Role of Low/Non-Calorie Sweeteners on Health

Food Industry Asia (FIA), one of the three conveners of the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), represents the industry as a trusted partner in the development of science-based policy in the region, by providing and facilitating an important hub for knowledge and information, as well as a platform for advocacy and debate.

In light of how LNCS are constantly subject to intense public debate and scrutiny, FIA is building a platform for credible and wide-ranging evidence-based narratives around sweeteners and sugars, backed by sound science.

“The Case for a Little Sweetness: The Role of Low/Non-Calorie Sweeteners on Health” white paper serves as an educational tool, by demystifying the myths sweeteners have been commonly linked with. It is the first instalment in a series that FIA has embarked on, to explore how sweeteners impact diet and health.

1  European Food Safety Authority (2011), Statement of EFSA on the scientific evaluation of two studies related to the safety of artificial sweeteners, Italy: European Food Safety Authority.
2  Gibson S, Drewnowski A, Hill J, Raben AB, Tuorila H, Widstrom E. on behalf of the International Sweeteners Association (2014), Conference Report: Consensus statement on benefits of low-calorie sweeteners, Nutrition Bulletin 39:386-389

Published on 23 Feb 2018