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Sugar Alternatives Have No Health Benefits

Sugar Alternatives Have No Health Benefits

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019 - 08:00
A bakery worker in Cairo dusts Kahk, a traditional sweet, with sugar. Reuters
London - Asharq Al-Awsat
A review of research on artificial and natural sweeteners commonly used as alternatives to sugar failed to find strong evidence they provide significant health benefits, but also found no harm from using them.

The analysis, published in The BMJ, was commissioned by the World Health Organization with the aim of developing guidelines on the use of non-sugar sweeteners such as aspartame and stevia.

According to Reuters, senior researcher Dr. Joerg Meerpohl, director of the Institute for Evidence in Medicine at the University of Freiburg in Germany, said: "Unfortunately, we don’t have sufficient data to assess fully the potential benefits and harms of non-sugar sweeteners."

Meerpohl said in an email that most of the studies were small or brief.

“Unfortunately, we need more and better research on the topic,” he added.

Meerpohl and colleagues gathered research that explored the impact of artificial sweeteners on important health outcomes like weight and blood sugar levels.

They eventually settled on 56 studies, 35 of which were not clinical trials. Some of the small studies suggested non-sugar sweeteners might slightly improve body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight relative to height) and blood sugar.

Two studies with a total of 174 participants found a very small improvement in blood sugar with use of non-sugar sweeteners.

Dr. Aziz Alkatib, a cardiologist at Detroit Medical Center’s Harper Hospital in Michigan said "For the vast majority of people, there probably aren’t any health benefits to non-sugar sweeteners. For individuals who consume excessive amounts of sugar, particularly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, perhaps a non-calorie sweetener is a less health-damaging alternative."

Alkatib said in an email: "One study showed that switching from diet beverages to water helped women lose weight. By consuming these sweeteners, you avoid confronting a major roadblock to healthy eating: sugar addiction."

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