Are low-calorie sweeteners or sugar?

When EWG was developing Food Scores – our new food database that rates more than 80,000 products on nutrition, ingredient concerns and processing concerns – one of the many thorny questions that we had to confront was: How should low-calorie sweeteners score? This is far from a simple question, but it is an important one, given that these sweeteners are in products as varied as diet sodas, ice cream, yogurt, snack bars, salad dressings, instant oatmeal and bagels.

Notably, the Institute of Medicine does not encourage consumption of products with artificial sweeteners nor consider them appropriate to meet the nutritional recommendations of the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans (IOM 2007). There is no scientific consensus on whether “diet” products with low-calorie sweeteners help with long-term weight loss. And there is ongoing debate over the safety of some sweeteners and on whether low-calorie sweeteners may condition the palate to make people crave more sweet foods or have other undesirable health effects.

Meanwhile, there is very clear data showing that eating a lot of sugar can be harmful, and the rising rates of diabetes and obesity are serious public health problems. Experts may disagree on exactly how much sugar is too much, but there is really no question that many Americans consume more of it than is good for them. Americans take in average of 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, according to recent government estimates.

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Nov 23, 2014

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