Consumption of beverages with low-calorie sweeteners by an individual has risen 36% during the last decade, according to a review of global market sales data spanning 2007 to 2019 by researchers at Australia’s Deakin University.
These “non-nutritive” sweeteners include artificial varieties such as aspartame and Acesulfame-K, as well as natural options like stevia and monk fruit.
The amount of added sugar from beverage sales has also risen globally, driven mainly by a 50% increase in middle-income countries such as India and China, according to the research. Meanwhile, per-person volumes of added sugars in drinks fell 22% in high-income countries like the U.S. and Australia.
Researchers argue non-nutritive sweeteners, despite being low-calorie, have been linked to health issues like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and can disrupt the gut microbiome. They could also train consumers to want more sweet foods, an issue especially relevant to kids.
Low-calorie sweeteners have been presented as a way for consumers to soothe their sweet tooth without the same consequences as sugar. But the researchers noted non-nutritive sweeteners are often found in ultra-processed foods that are designed to be “hyper-palatable.” This dynamic is especially concerning for children.
Researchers argue that foods containing non-nutritive sweeteners instead of sugar appear to have a “health halo” among consumers. They contend that this is not only misleading but could also prevent people from eating nutritious whole foods.