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Artificial sweeteners: Jury still out on long-term benefits, safety

I am happily surprised with recent nutrition-related statements from two leading professional organizations. Nutrition policy moves slowly. It took Dietary Guidelines 35 years to update its cholesterol recommendations. And the egg’s reputation suffered for all those years.

The American Heart Association published a science advisory regarding low-calorie sweetened beverages (LCSB) in Circulation. These are beverages sweetened with high-intensity sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.

Sheah Rarback.jpg
Sheah Rarback

The expert panel reviewed all pertinent observational and clinical research. This is an important issue since LCSB make up 32 percent of the beverages adults drink and 19 percent for children. They concluded that there is a lack of long-term studies to adequately document the benefit and safety of these beverages for weight control and heart health.

This lack of evidence does not mean they are not helpful or safe. Considering this, the advisory group stated that “at this time it is prudent to advise against prolonged consumption of LCSB by children.” For adults, they understand LCSB may be useful for people who are used to a sweet beverage. But the emphasis must be on an overall healthful dietary pattern. They further recommend a total intake of no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugar.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement on food additives and child health. There are over 10,000 chemicals added to food. Even when individual additives are studied, the interactions between additives is not. And many additives had not had sufficient review. The AAP states that substantial improvements to the food additive regulatory system are urgently needed.

The following AAP recommendations are for minimizing chemical exposures from containers:

  • Avoid microwaving food or beverages in plastic.

  • Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher

  • Use alternatives to plastic such as glass or stainless steel.

  • Look at the recycling code on the bottom of products for the recycling code. Avoid 3 (phthalates) 6 (styrene) and 7 (bisphenols) unless they say biobased or greenware.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.
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