Each week, more than a quarter of Australians use sweeteners in both carbonated soft drinks and confectionery. In 2016, the market for food sweeteners was valued at USD 85 billion. It is estimated to reach nearly USD 118 billion by 2022.
Unlike sugars, sweeteners generally do not contain any calories. Their use in beverages has been promoted as a means of reducing sugar consumption, providing a sweet taste without the energy of sugar to help promote weight loss.
Sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, can be divided into three groups:
1. sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol)
2. artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose)
3. natural sweeteners (stevia).
Sweeteners have been linked with a number of health problems, however scientific data to support their safety and benefits are controversial. In one study, people who consumed artificially sweetened soft drinks daily were about three times more likely than people who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages to develop stroke or dementia. Others have found that type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in those who regularly consumed artificially sweetened soft drinks.
A 14-year French study that examined the risk of type 2 diabetes in 60 000 women, comparing those who consumed artificially sweetened drinks with those who drank sugar-sweetened beverages, found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was twice as high in the women drinking high levels of artificially sweetened beverages than those consuming similar amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Another study found a correlation between consuming artificially sweetened drinks and health markers related to metabolic syndrome, such as weight, waist-to-hip ratio, fasting blood glucose, HbA1c and glucose tolerance test. A US study found a similar correlation between daily consumption of diet soft drinks and the risk of metabolic syndrome (36% greater than non-drinker of diet soft drinks) and of type 2 diabetes (67% greater). And finally, a review of 30 trials involving more than 400 000 subjects concluded that regularly drinking artificial sweeteners could be linked with a higher body mass index (BMI) and risk of diabetes, heart disease or stroke. The same review also indicated that artificial sweeteners were not an effective tool in weight loss.