The harsh reality is that you can’t have both sweetness and health, which corresponds to consumers’ high expectations of sugar substitutes. In fact, it is not a recent discovery that sugar substitutes have limited usefulness. The academic community has always been cautious about the health benefits of sugar substitutes, such as their effectiveness in preventing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and aiding weight loss. Only in certain specific conditions, such as preventing tooth decay, do experts confidently state that sugar substitutes can be somewhat useful.
The role of sugar substitutes has been exaggerated, and consumers have been kept in the dark. Who is behind this deception? To understand this issue, we must first determine the positioning of sugar substitutes.
Sugar substitutes are a type of food additive. Food additives are artificial or natural substances added to food to improve its color, flavor, taste, preservation, freshness, and processing. In the case of sugar substitutes, their role is to improve the taste (sweetness) of food. The focus is not on their effectiveness or potential health benefits. Otherwise, sugar substitutes would not be confined to the realm of food additives but would have been promoted to pharmaceutical products.
As a food additive, safety evaluation is more important than effectiveness. In simple terms, the important aspect of sugar substitutes as a food additive is not whether they have health benefits but whether they can be used within a reasonable range without causing harm to human health. The key factors to consider are the safe dosage, chemical evaluation, toxicological evaluation, and whether they reduce the nutritional value of the food itself. Additionally, they may provide additional value to the food (such as preservation and extended shelf life). These are the focal points of examination, review, and validation for a component that serves as a food additive.
Considering this, the effectiveness of sugar substitutes is not a part of the pre-market approval process as a food additive, and it should not be allowed for advertising. Even if a business has the audacity, they wouldn’t dare say, “Drink this zero-sugar, zero-calorie beverage, don’t worry about gaining weight, it will make you slim and prevent cardiovascular diseases.”
The problem lies in the fact that consumers can avoid explicit statements but not implicit ones. Advertising slogans, bottle packaging, so-called “health and wellness” marketing “education,” all constantly imply to consumers: choose sugar-free (sugar substitutes) for health, stay away from obesity. Sugar substitutes → sugar-free → health, these three concepts are subtly linked together.