by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Artificial-sweeteners

Jun 23 2017

Healthy Food America’s Policy and Research Briefs: Diet Drinks

Healthy Food America is a relatively new organization.  Based in Seattle, it

Acts on science to drive change in policy and industry practice so that all people can live in places where nutritious food is easy to obtain and exposure to unhealthy products is limited..  We are coordinating with other advocates to energize a national movement to roll back added sugars in food and beverages to healthful levels.​

It runs a blog, publishes a newsletter, and produces useful information.  I was particularly interested in its information on diet drinks.

It’s Policy Brief discusses whether or not artificially sweetened beverages should be included in soda tax initiatives.

Sugary drink taxes were conceived of as a strategy to prevent chronic health conditions by reducing consumption of sugar. Recently, however, some jurisdictions have included artificially sweetened, or “diet”, beverages. There is strong scientific evidence associating sugary drinks with higher rates of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease and dental disease. The evidence of harm from diet drinks is less certain.  Therefore, we recommend not including diet drinks in beverage taxes.

Its Research Brief summarizes the evidence linking artificially sweetened beverages to disease risk.

This research brief summarizes:

1) reviews or meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies that analyzed the association between ASB consumption and disease risk,

2) randomized trials that studied the metabolic and health effects of ASB consumption, and

3) randomized trials that studied the effect of ASB consumption on weight loss.

Reviews and meta-analyses were restricted to those published in the last 5 years, to ensure that this brief reflected the latest science. All studies were obtained through PubMed searches.

It helps to have all this.

May 3 2017

Do sweet drinks have anything to do with dementia? 

Two studies suggest—but most definitely do not prove—that they might.

A press release from Boston University says that daily consumption of either sugary or artificially sweetened drinks affect the brain.

Data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) has shown that people who more frequently consume sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices are more likely to have poorer memory, smaller overall brain volumes and smaller hippocampal volumes–an area of the brain important for memory. Researchers also found that people who drank diet soda daily were almost three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not consume diet soda.

The American Heart Association sent out its own press release on the stroke and dementia results. 

Framingham study participants who reported drinking one or more artificially sweetened beverage daily compared to less than one a week had almost three times the risk of developing either stroke or dementia.

The data are impressive.  This is the survival curve for dementia (the one for stroke looks much the same). Green = 0 drinks per week.  Red = 6 per week.  Blue = 7 or more per week.

Caveat: These are correlational studies showing an association between sweet drinks and loss of brain function.  They do not demonstrate that sweet drinks cause these problems—these could be due to some other dietary or behavioral factor.

As you might imagine, the studies got as lot of press attention.  One useful analysis comes from Business Insider:

First, both studies were done by some of the same researchers, including the lead scientist, Boston University neurologist Matthew Pase…For the sweet drinks and brain health research, the scientists drew from a large set of observational data taken from thousands of people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts who were initially recruited beginning back in the 1940s as part of a study designed to learn more about heart disease called the Framingham Heart Study…of all the people in the study, the percentage of those who did go on to develop stroke or dementia was small — about 3% for stroke and about 5% for dementia.

The Guardian asks “Should link between dementia and artificial sweeteners be taken with a pinch of salt?”  It discusses some of the methodological issues, of which there are many.

The bottom line?  While waiting for researchers to sort all this out, water is an excellent choice.

Sugary drinks study

Diet drinks study

 

Apr 6 2017

FoodNavigator USA’s Special Edition on Sweeteners

FoodNavigator-USA, a food-industry newsletter that I read regularly, publishes occasional “Special Editions,” meaning collections of articles it has published on specific topics.  This one is on Sweeteners and Sugar Reduction,

Food and beverage manufacturers have a far wider range of sweetening options than ever before, from coconut sugar to allulose, monk fruit and new stevia blends. This special edition looks at the latest market developments, the changing political landscape, formulation challenges and consumer research. It will also address some labeling and regulatory issues affecting the market, from new FDA requirements to list added sugar on the Nutrition Facts label and the extent to which the ‘GMO factor’ is impacting purchasing decisions for sweeteners.

Oct 3 2014

Where to find Coca-Cola Life in Mexico? In the produce section, of course.

I’m in Mexico City and María Verónica Flores Bello, who teaches at a university here, gave me this photo taken at a Selecto supermarket.  It, she says, is Coca-Cola’s “brand new green Coca Cola, sweetened with stevia and sugar, as healthy and fresh as eating vegetables….”la foto

Here’s the label:

coca cola life

Soon to a supermarket near you?  Only if Mexicans buy it.

I’ll explain what these labels mean on Monday,

Happy weekend.

Sep 19 2014

Do artificial sweeteners cause–not cure–glucose intolerance?

The big nutrition scare last week was the study in Nature finding that in mice and, maybe, humans, artificial sweeteners mess up the microbiome and make some people even more intolerant of glucose.

The authors conclude that their results call for a reassessment of massive use of artificial sweeteners.

The study is complicated and difficult to read but the Wall Street Journal has a nice summary.  It explains why the study is getting so much attention:

The new Nature study marks a significant advance because it brings together two separate areas of research—the role of sweeteners in raising blood sugar levels, and the complex workings of the vast colonies of bacteria that inhabit the gut. Individuals can have differing bacterial colonies in their gut, meaning people respond differently to what they consume.

The study involved several experiments.  These found:

  • Mice fed saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame had significantly higher blood-glucose levels than mice whose diet included sugar, or just water.
  • Mice with sterilized digestive tracts, who were given bacterial transplants from artificial-sweetener-fed mice, displayed higher blood sugar levels than those receiving bacterial transplants from sugar-fed mice.
  • People who typically use artificial sweeteners have different kinds of bacteria in their intestines than those who do not.  They also are more glucose intolerant.
  • Seven volunteers fed artificial sweeteners for four days displayed higher blood-sugar levels as well as altered populations of bacteria in their gut.

The Wall Street Journal quotes the Calorie Control Council (the trade association of makers of artificial sweeteners).  The CCC said:

The results from the mouse experiments may not apply to humans, while the human experiments had a small sample size. It said further research was needed.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners, I think the Calorie Control Council has a point.

The excellent report by Kenneth Chang in the New York Times explains why.

At present, the scientists cannot explain how the sweeteners affect the bacteria or why the three different molecules of saccharin, aspartame and sucralose result in similar changes in the glucose metabolism.

Chang ends with this:

Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and immunology at the Harvard School of Public Health who did not take part in the study, called it interesting but far from conclusive and added that given the number of participants, “I think the validity of the human study is questionable.”

Here’s why I’m not fond of artificial sweeteners:

  • They taste bad (to me)
  • They have no demonstrated effectiveness in helping people lose or maintain weight.
  • They are artificial, and violate my rule to “never eat anything artificial.”

Do they mess up the microbiome and cause glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome?

That would be fascinating, but I’m reserving judgment pending further research.

In the meantime, I’ll take sugar—in moderation, of course.

May 8 2013

New studies on artificial sweeteners: a puzzle

FoodNavigator.com reports two new studies on artificial sweeteners.

The first report says that artificially sweetened sodas do not lead to increased sugar or calorie consumption.

Our study study does not provide evidence to suggest that a short-term consumption of DBs [diet beverages], compared with water, increases preferences for sweet foods and beverages.

If this result proves repeatable, it leaves open the question of why the prevalence of obesity has gone up in parallel with increasing consumption of diet sodas (which it has).  

So how come diet sodas don’t seem to help people maintain weight, on average?  We still don’t know.

The second report is about a study that links diet sodas to type 2 diabetes.   In a study following 66,000 women for 14 years, it found both sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and artificially sweetened beverage consumption to be associated with increased type-2 diabetes risk. 

How come?  We still don’t know.

One thing seems pretty clear from such studies: diet drinks don’t appear to do much good for most people and aren’t any better for health than regular sodas.

Water, anyone?

Apr 22 2013

Food politics makes strange bedfellows, again

Last week, I wrote about the dairy industry’s petition to avoid having to follow FDA rules about labeling artificial sweeteners on the front of milk cartons.

Cara Wilking, Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University points out that the Sugar Association, the trade association for producers of cane and beet sugar, is right on top of this issue.

To assist consumers in making informed choices about what is sweetening the products they purchase, the Sugar Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting changes to labeling regulations on sugar and alternative sweeteners.

In this petition we asked that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols be identified on the front of the package along with the amounts, similar to what is required in Canada.

If it is important to you to know if the product you purchase contains artificial sweeteners, let your congressional representatives know that FDA needs to take action on this important consumer issue.

The Sugar Association, obviously, represents the producers of cane and beet sugar. It wants to sell more sugar.  It doesn’t like artificial sweeteners much.  [Recall: it doesn’t like me much either—go to Media and scroll down to the bottom to read the Sugar Association’s letter threatening to sue me].

In contrast, the dairy industry wants to sell more milk.  Sweetened milk, no matter with what, sells to kids.  School kids are a big market for the dairy industry.  This market, however, is not doing well these days, according to the dairy industry’s August 2012 School Channel Survey.

Schools and processors are realizing 59% of current potential…Milk potential stands at 6.29 milks per student each week…Actual usage is 3.74 milks per student each week.  Elementary schools: 70% of potential being realized, down 1 point Secondary schools: 50%, down 1 point over last year.

Achieving ‘a milk with every meal’ translates into nearly 300 million incremental gallons….

Of course artificial sweeteners should be prominently labeled.  The Sugar Association has this one right.

Whatever your opinion, you can file comments at www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147.

 

Apr 18 2013

FDA wants comments on labeling of artificial sweeteners in milk

The FDA is collecting opinions on a dairy industry petition to change the standard of identity for milk.  The dairy industry wants to be able to add artificial sweeteners to chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk without saying so on the front panel of the package.

FDA Wants Your Opinion on Dairy-Product Labels - (JPG v2)

Why is the dairy industry doing this?  Because it believes that:

Labels such as “reduced calorie” or “no added sugar” are a turn-off to kids who might otherwise reach for flavored milk with non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners at the school cafeteria or from the grocery store cooler.

As if kids should be reaching for milk with artificial sweeteners.  

The FDA wants to hear from YOU about this.  It wants your comments on these questions (my translation):

  • If the label just says Chocolate Milk, will consumers understand that the milk is artificially sweetened?
  • Are descriptions like “reduced calorie” really unattractive to children?
  • Will it be hard for consumers to figure out whether a product contains sugar or an artificial sweetener?
How about a couple of other questions?
  • Why would anyone put artificial sweeteners into milk in the first place?
  • Is giving artificial sweeteners to children a good idea?
  • Why does milk for kids have to be sweetened?  Can’t kids drink plain, unflavored milk?
Just asking.  Do weigh in on this one.  It’s not hard to do.

Go to www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147. 

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