by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Artificial-sweeteners

Mar 3 2020

The food politics of Coronavirus

Food politics connects to everything and Coronoavirus is no exception.  I’ve been collecting items.

For starters,  Coca-Cola gets its artificial sweeteners from China.  Oops.  Its supply chain is now disrupted.

Production and exports have been delayed for Coke’s suppliers of sugar alternatives used in the company’s diet and zero-sugar drinks, Coca-Cola disclosed Monday as part of its annual report.

“We have initiated contingency supply plans and do not foresee a short-term impact due to these delays…However, we may see tighter supplies of some of these ingredients in the longer term should production or export operations in China deteriorate.”

The primary artificial sweeteners Coca-Cola (KO) uses in its products include aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin, cyclamate and steviol gylcosides.

In its annual report, Coca-Cola indicated that it considered sucralose a “critical raw material” sourced from suppliers in the US and China. Splenda, a sucralose product used in Diet Coke with Splenda, is made in the US and not sourced from China.

This worries you?  Join the hoarders.  Some people are trying to make sure they have a 14-day supply of food in case they get quarantined.  This situation has gotten so out of hand that stores are running out of food.

The FDA wants everyone to calm down.  It has a web page on what’s happening with supply chains.  Most of this is about the supply of pharmaceuticals made in China, but here’s what it says about food:

We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.

It’s hard to calm down if the situation affects you.  The organizers of Food Expo West, the natural products show scheduled for Anaheim, says COVID-19 fears could cut Expo West attendance by as much as 60% (the article links to official and unofficial lists of companies that have pulled out).

But every crisis has winners as well as losers.  The possible winners here?  Food delivery companies (as long as they can get supplies).

Stay tuned.

Update 3/3: Expo West has been postponed.

Jun 28 2019

Weekend reading: FoodNavigator’s special edition on sweeteners

The industry newsletter, FoodNavigator.com, which I follow for its thorough coverage of this industry, has collected a set of its articles on sweeteners in a “special edition.”

Reminder: We love sweet foods.  Sugars have calories and encourage us to eat more of sweet foods.  Food companies wish they had a reasonable alternative to sugars that tasted as good and didn’t cause health problems.

Good luck with that!  In the meantime…

Special Edition: Sweeteners and sugar reduction

Food and beverage manufacturers have a far wider range of sweetening options than ever before, from coconut sugar and date syrup to allulose, monk fruit and new stevia blends. We explore the latest market developments, formulation challenges, and consumer research.

Apr 16 2019

Comment on a study correlating sugary beverages to mortality

I am occasionally asked to comment on new studies that appear.  Practice Update: Diabetes asked for a comment on this study:

VS Malik, et al.  Long-Term Consumption of Sugar Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Mortality in US Adults. Circulation. 2019;139:00–00. DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.037401

The study concluded: “Consumption of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] was positively associated with mortality primarily through CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality and showed a graded association with dose. The positive association between high intake levels of ASBs [artificially sweetened beverages] and total and CVD mortality observed among women requires further confirmation.”

Here’s what I said:

This study is based on analyses of data from two remarkably large and long-standing investigations of diet and disease risk. The investigators looked for correlations between mortality and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and found them. More than two SSB servings a day was associated with higher mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease, and, to a lesser extent, cancer.

Thus, this study adds to the increasing body of evidence associating SSBs with poor health. SSBs provide calories, but nothing of nutritional value. Other studies correlate SSBs with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. A further correlation with increased mortality is not surprising, but it is good to have it confirmed.

These results associate high intake of SSBs with disease risk, but cannot prove that SSBs causedisease. Epidemiological studies like these, based on self-reported dietary data, require careful interpretation. In part, this is because intake of SSBs tracks closely with other lifestyle characteristics. Heavy SSB users tend to be more sedentary, more likely to smoke, to consume more meat and calories, but to eat fewer vegetables than light users—overall, to have less healthy dietary habits in general. Still, reducing or eliminating SSB intake is harmless and could well improve health.

Mar 14 2019

Do artificial sweeteners do any good?

A study by European investigators concluded that artificial (non-sugar) sweeteners [NSS] had no particular benefits for health.

Most health outcomes did not seem to have differences between the NSS exposed and unexposed groups. Of the few studies identified for each outcome, most had few participants, were of short duration, and their methodological and reporting quality was limited; therefore, confidence in the reported results is limited.

However, the accompanying editorial by Vasanti Malik concludes:

Based on existing evidence including long term cohort studies with repeated measurements and high quality trials with caloric comparators, use of NSS as a replacement for free sugars (particularly in sugar sweetened beverages) could be a helpful strategy to reduce cardiometabolic risk among heavy consumers, with the ultimate goal of switching to water or other healthy drinks.

On this basis, the Calorie Control Council, the trade group that represents the makers of artificial sweeteners issued a statement rebutting the study:

In alignment with the conclusions made by Dr. Malik, the Calorie Control Council agrees that the highest quality science supports that LNCS [low- and no-calorie sweeteners] can be consumed as part of a balanced diet and can assist with the reduction of cardiometabolic risk through the management of body weight and reduced caloric intake.

Given the proven safety and benefits of LNCS, consumers should continue to be confident in including these ingredients as part of a healthy diet.

Note the conditional “could” and “can.”  Artificial sweeteners might help, but you can’t count on them for miracles.

Mar 4 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: artificial sweeteners and the microbiome

The study: Assessing the in vivo data on low/no-calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota.  Alexandra R. Lobacha, Ashley Roberts, Ian R. Rowland. Food and Chemical Toxicology 124 (2019) 385–399.

Its conclusion: “The sum of the data provides clear evidence that changes in the diet unrelated to LNCS [low- and no-calorie sweeteners] consumption are likely the major determinants of change in gut microbiota numbers and phyla, confirming the viewpoint supported by all the major international food safety and health regulatory authorities that LNCS are safe at currently approved levels.”

Funding disclosures: Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy (A.R.L. and A.R.) received financial support from the Calorie Control Council to assist in the preparation of the manuscript. The Calorie Control Council did not contribute to the origination, planning, implementation, or interpretation of this work. The Calorie Control Council did review the content of the complete manuscript; however, A.R. maintained responsibility for the final content.

Comment: Artificial sweeteners are widely suspected on the basis of questionable evidence to be harmful in one way or another.  The industry that makes these sweeteners wants to prove them safe and effective.  This was a literature review commissioned by the Calorie Control Council, a trade association for the makers and users of artificial sweeteners, from Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy, a group that does this kind of work.  I would be more confident in conclusions like these if they had been arrived at independently.

Dec 14 2017

Splenda is safe. Guess who funded the study.

For months now, I haven’t posted an industry-funded studies with results favorable to the sponsor, but this one about deserves mention.

Title: Critical review of the current literature on the safety of sucralose, by BA Magnuson, A Roberts, and ER Nestmann.

Journal: Food and Chemical Toxicology 2017:106:324-355.

Conclusion: “Collectively, critical review of the extensive database of research demonstrates that sucralose is safe for its intended use as a non-caloric sugar alternative.

Financial support was provided by the Calorie Control Council, Atlanta GA, to the employers of the authors for the preparation and publication of this review.

My comment: This lengthy review of literature on the safety of sucralose (Splenda) was commissioned by the Calorie Control Council, a trade association representing “manufacturers and suppliers of low- and reduced-calorie foods and beverages, including manufacturers and suppliers of more than two dozen different alternative sweeteners, fibers and other low-calorie, dietary ingredients.”

It paid authors affiliated with Health Science Consultants, Inc and Intertek Scientific and Regulatory Consultancy to produce this review.

  • The Calorie Control Council has a vested interest in demonstrating Splenda to be safe.
  • The consultant groups have a vested interest in pleasing the Calorie Control Council.
  • Therefore, this review has a higher-than-average likelihood of bias.

Is Splenda safe?  It very well may be safe, but some contrary evidence exists (this paper dismisses it).  It would be interesting to see how independent scientists view the matter.

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