Low/no calorie sweeteners are safe and have a role to play in food reformulation

Science news from the 12th EFAD Conference

EFAD Conference 2019 – Berlin, 1st November: In the context of current health challenges globally and of the efforts from public health authorities in encouraging food manufacturers to replace sugar and reduce calories as part of their reformulation goals, there is an increased interest from the scientific and consumer communities in the use of low/no calorie sweeteners as part of a healthy diet. With this in mind, and as part of the 12th Conference of the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians (EFAD), taking place on 1st and 2nd November in Berlin (Germany), the International Sweeteners Association (ISA) organised today the symposium “Low calorie sweeteners in the diet: Safety, emerging research and nutrition recommendations”.

The symposium started with a presentation by Prof Dominique Parent Massin, French academy of Agriculture (France), who reminded the audience on the approval process for low/no calorie sweeteners: in order to be approved for use on the market, low/no calorie sweeteners – as any food additive – must first undergo a thorough risk assessment by the competent food safety authority. In the European Union, this is the job of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).1 The safety of all approved low/no calorie sweeteners has been consistently and repeatedly confirmed by food safety agencies worldwide. Furthermore, as part of the safety evaluation process, the risk assessment experts from these agencies establish an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for approved low/no calorie sweeteners, that represents the daily amount that can be safely consumed over a lifetime without any health risk, including by high-use consumers and children. Intake of approved low/no calorie sweeteners is monitored by the food safety agencies, and research at global level confirms that low/no calorie sweeteners’ intake remains well below the individual sweetener ADI among the general population.2

Presenting findings from recent research, Prof Ian Rowland, University of Reading (UK), confirmed that current evidence does not support the claim that low/no calorie sweeteners would have any adverse effect on health via an impact on gut microbiota at doses that are relevant to human use.3 In fact, low/no calorie sweeteners are up to hundreds of times sweeter than sugar by weight, so only very small amounts of these are needed to produce the desired level of sweetness in foods and beverages. Prof Rowland expressed caution in interpreting results from studies on low/no calorie sweeteners and microbiota, highlighting the need to be mindful of study design and to take into consideration the differences between the gut microbiome profile in laboratory animals compared to humans, as well as the difficulty in translating data from animal studies that often test effects of extremely high doses of low/no calorie sweeteners.

To conclude the symposium, Dr Margaret Ashwell OBE, Ashwell Associates (UK), presented latest data on obesity and diabetes rates, highlighting their increase globally over the last four decades, and the importance, and urgency, to tackle obesity as it is also linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart diseases and other metabolic disorders. Not surprisingly, public health authorities have shown a growing interest in food reformulation and in the development of foods and beverages that contain fewer calories and less sugar, saturated fat and salt.4 Dr Ashwell emphasised the role that low/no calorie sweeteners can play in this context and when used as substitutes for sugar in foods and drinks and as part of overall healthy and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.5 Indeed, they can help people reduce their sugar and calorie intake while providing desired sweetness, thereby being a useful tool in weight and diabetes management.6

For more information about the ISA symposium we invite you to read the dedicated, more detailed, article available on the ISA website here. To read more about the ISA participation to the EFAD Conference 2019, please click here.

Engage in the conversation on social media about EFAD Conference 2019 by using #EFAD2019 and #EFADConference2019, and share your thoughts on the ISA symposium by using #ISAatEFAD.

  1. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/topic/sweeteners
  2. Martyn D, Darch M, Roberts A, Lee HY, Tian TY, Kaburagi N, Belmar P. Low-/No-Calorie Sweeteners: A Review of Global Intakes. Nutrients 2018; 10(3): 357
  3. Lobach A, Roberts A, Rowland I. Assessing the in vivo data on low/no-calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2019; 124: 385-399
  4. Public Health England (PHE) 2015. Sugar reduction: The evidence for action. Annexe 5: Food Supply. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470176/Annexe_5._Food_Supp…
  5. Gibson S, Ashwell M, Arthur J, Bagley L, Lennox A, Rogers J and Stanner S. What can the food and drink industry do to help achieve the 5% free sugars goal? Perspect Public Health. 2017 Jul;137(4):237-247
  6. Diabetes UK. The use of low or no calorie sweeteners. Position Statement (Updated December 2018). Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/professionals/position-statements-reports/food-nutrition-lifestyle/use-o…