by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Artificial-sweeteners

Oct 12 2021

The Sugar Association vs. Artificial Sweeteners

As I mentioned yesterday, the American Beverage Association represents the interests of soft drink companies that use sugars and artificial sweeteners in their products.  Its goal: to make you think both are just fine for your health.

Today, let’s take a look at a related, but different trade association, this one The Sugar Association.  Its goal: to make you not worry about sugars and to think that they are better for you than artificial sweeteners.

Here, for example, is a press release from this Association from this past summer: New Research Shows Large Majority of Consumers Understand Real Sugar Comes from Plants & That it Can Be Part of a Healthy Diet; Data reveals significant shift in perceptions of sugar and artificial sweeteners.

And here is its infographic showing data on public suspicions of artificial sweeteners.

Now, we have a new campaign from The Sugar Association: The Campaign for Sweetener Transparency.

More than 10,000 consumers across the United States have joined the fight for sweeping reform of the government’s labeling regulations covering the use of alternative sweeteners in packaged food by signing an online petition urging the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to require food companies to place clear, complete and accurate information on food labels…it’s virtually impossible for shoppers to know what alternative sweeteners are in which packaged foods because the FDA only requires food companies to list the chemical names of sugar substitutes on food ingredient labels. So, consumers only see names like Xylitol, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates, Saccharin, Acesulfame Potassium, Neotame, Isomalt and Lactitol on ingredients lists without even knowing what they are and why they are used.

The Sugar Association wants artificial sweeteners clearly labeled so customers will switch to products that have sugars instead.

  • Products containing artificial sweeteners fall in the category of ultra-processed—foods that should be avoided or eaten in small amounts.
  • Products containing added sugars also should be avoided or eaten in small amounts.

That’s why this campaign is about market share, not health.

For a basic guide to what to do about sugars, see this resource guide from Hunter’s Food Policy Center.

Oct 11 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: artificially-sweetened sodas and calorie intake

The study: Effects of Unsweetened Preloads and Preloads Sweetened with Caloric or Low-/No-Calorie Sweeteners on Subsequent Energy Intakes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Human Intervention Studies.  Han Youl Lee, Maia Jack, Theresa Poon, Daniel Noori, Carolina Venditti, Samer Hamamji, Kathy Musa-Veloso.  Advances in Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue 4, July 2021, Pages 1481–1499.

Methods: Review and meta-analysis of previously published studies.

Conclusions: Unsweetened or LNCS-sweetened preloads appear to have similar effects on intakes when compared with one another or with CS-sweetened preloads. These findings suggest that LNCS-sweetened foods and beverages are viable alternatives to CS-sweetened foods and beverages to manage short-term energy intake.

Funder: “The American Beverage Association provided funding for the work presented herein.”

Author disclosures: MJ is a paid employee of the American Beverage Association. Intertek Health Sciences, Inc.(HYL, TP, DN, CV, SH, KMV), works for the American Beverage Association as paid scientific and regulatory consultants.”

Comment: The great puzzle about artificial sweeteners is that they are not strongly associated with reduced calorie intake in most studies, perhaps because sweet tastes encourage people to eat more calories.  This industry-funded study is designed to counter that idea.  It concludes that low- or no-calorie sweeteners have no special effect on calorie intake.  The American Beverage Association represents soft drink companies, predominantly Coke and Pepsi, most of them manufacturing drinks sweetened with sugars or high-fructose corn syrup (with calories) or chemical sweeteners (no or low-calorie).  These companies are happy to have you buy either kind, and they don’t want you worrying about all the things you’ve heard about artificial sweeteners.

The Association’s rules for research are here.   But it is unlikely to fund proposals for research that might come up with inconvenient conclusions.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Oct 19 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: Stevia

Stevia Beverage Consumption prior to Lunch Reduces Appetite and Total Energy Intake without Affecting Glycemia or Attentional Bias to Food Cues: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial in Healthy Adults.  Nikoleta S Stamataki, Nikoleta S Stamataki, Corey Scott, Rebecca Elliott, Shane McKie, Douwina Bosscher, John T McLaughlin. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 5, May 2020, Pages 1126–1134.

Method: This randomized, controlled, double-blind crossover study gave 20 healthy participants water or beverages with various sweeteners before lunch.  The investigators measured how much participants ate after consuming each drink.

Conclusion:  “This study found a beneficial and specific effect of a stevia beverage consumed prior to a meal on appetite and energy intake in healthy adults.”

Conflict of interest statement: “This study was supported by funding from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) through a BBSRC Case Studentship awarded to NSS. Cargill prepared and provided the test products free of charge.  Author disclosures: DB and CS were employed by Cargill during the preparation of this manuscript, and Cargill produces stevia. The other authors report no conflicts of interest.”

Comment:  The artificial sweetener Stevia is manufactured by Cargill.  Two of the authors work for Cargill.  Cargill has a vested interest in demonstrating that consumption of Stevia helps people lose weight.  Whether artificial sweeteners help with weight loss is a question much debated.  Industry-funded studies like his one tend to find benefits.  Some independently funded studies do too but others do not.

My guess: artificial sweeteners might help some people, but their overall benefits, if any, are small.

My take: one of my food rules is not to eat anything artificial, so Stevia is off my dietary radar from the get-go.

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.