Researchers from the University of Bath and Plymouth University in the UK, and the European Food Information Council in Belgium, examined dietitians’ perceptions of sweeteners and the advice they give about them.
“Dietitians’ perceptions about sweeteners are uncertain, ambivalent and divergent, sometimes explicitly being linked to fears about adverse health effects,” the researchers said.
Despite scientific opinions (including a recent one on aspartame) from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) repeatedly finding that sweeteners are safe at current consumption levels, some dietitians were not convinced, the study found. In addition, some did not recommend sweeteners because they thought consumers should become less attached to sweet tastes, or pointed to research that has linked sweetener consumption to increased appetite.
“Clear and authoritative guidance is required on scientific evidence around sweeteners as well as the ways in which they can be used in dietetic practice,” the study’s authors wrote.
A recent study tested the hypothesis that sweeteners increase desire for sweet foods and drinks, and the results suggested that people who consumed diet soft drinks did not eat more sugary (or fatty) foods. And experts have been unified in a call for more controlled studies in humans before coming to conclusions about zero-calorie sweeteners’ metabolic effects.
The researchers behind this latest study collected data from 151 registered dietitians in France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal and the United Kingdom, using face-to-face interviews and an online tool.
They found four main approaches to advice on sweeteners among dietitians – with the most common being a recommendation that sweeteners should not be used at all (37 dietitians), or that sweeteners should be seen as a transitional product (37 dietitians). Six respondents said they considered their clients’ informed preference in deciding whether to use sweeteners, while 12 allowed or recommended sweetener use.
“The ambiguous, uncertain and divergent positions that dietitians take seem to reflect the diversity evident within the media, public health information and NGO networks,” the study’s authors wrote, adding that many dietitians considered that safety information on sweeteners was influenced by industry.
“It is therefore not considered as authoritative and consequently not appropriated in the advice that dietitians pass on to their clients.”
The researchers said that there was no clear advice on how to deal with sweeteners from a dietetic expert body in Europe.
“Deriving and communicating a clear position with respect to the recent scientific evidence provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) would arguably provide a key resource for dietitians in alleviating uncertainty,” they concluded.
Source: The European Journal of Public Health
“Dietitian perceptions of low-calorie sweeteners”
Authors: Michelle Harricharan, Josephine Wills, Nathalie Metzger, Anne de Looy, Julie Barnett