Over the last decade, foods and beverages have become more sweet, and this is a global problem

Over the last decade, foods and beverages have become more sweet, and this is a global problem ...

Humans have an evolutionary desire for sweetness. Sweet foods, like fruit and honey, were an important energy source for our predecessors.

Sweetened foods are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and widely advertised in the modern world. Now, we are consuming too much sugar in foods and beverages that are added rather than natural sugar.

Too much sugar is bad for health. It is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.

Because of these health concerns, manufacturers began using non-nutritive sweeteners to sweeten foods as well. These sweeteners include both artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, and natural sweeteners, such as stevia.

Our recent study demonstrates that the amount of added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners in packaged foods and beverages has increased dramatically over the last decade. This is particularly true in middle-income countries, such as China and India, as well as in Asia Pacific, including Australia.

From lollies to biscuits, there's something for everyone.

From 2007 through 2019, we analyzed market sales statistics from across the globe. Addition of sugar and non-nutritive sweeteners sold in packaged foods and beverages

Per person quantities of non-nutritive sweeteners in beverages have increased by 36% globally. Added sugars in packaged foods have increased by 9 percent.

Non-nutritive sweeteners are most commonly added to confectionery. Ice creams and sweet biscuits are the fastest-growing food categories in terms of these sweeteners. Overall, our packaged food supply is becoming more sweet.

The amount of added sugar used to sweeten beverages has increased across the globe, although this is mainly explained by a 50 percent increase in middle-income countries, such as China and India, while use has decreased in high-income countries, such as Australia and the United States.

Men should consume less than nine teaspoons of sugar a day, while women should consume less than six. However, over half of Australians do not comply with these guidelines, eating an average of 14 teaspoons a day.

Carbonated soft drinks and bottled water are the most common examples of a shift from adding added sugar to sweeteners to sweeten beverages. The World Health Organization is working on guidelines on the use of non-sugar sweeteners.

Countries that are both rich and poor are not the same.

In addition, there is a significant difference in the use of sugar and sweeteners between wealthy and poorer countries. The market for packaged foods and beverages in high-income countries has become saturated. To continue to grow, large food and beverage businesses are expanding into middle-income countries.

Our findings suggest a two-standard approach to the sweetening of food supply, with manufacturers producing less sweet, "healthier" products in developing countries.

Control has unexpected consequences, according to experts.

Several governments have taken steps to reduce the health impacts of high sugar intakes. These include sugar levies, education campaigns, advertising restrictions, and labeling.

Nevertheless, such actions can encourage manufacturers to substitute sugar partially or entirely with non-nutritive sweeteners in order to avoid penalties or adapt to changing population preferences.

In our study, we found that non-nutritive sweeteners were sold in beverages in areas with a greater number of policy actions to reduce sugar intakes.

What is the reason for the situation?

While the consequences of excessive sugar consumption are well-known, relying on non-nutritive sweeteners as a treatment may pose a risk. Despite their lack of nutritional energy, recent studies suggest consuming non-nutritive sweeteners may be linked with type 2 diabetes and heart disease and can disrupt the gut microbiome.

Ingestioning non-nutritive sweeteners influences our palates and drives us to want more sweet food, especially for children, who are still developing their taste preferences over time.

Several non-nutritive sweeteners are considered environmental contaminants and are not effectively removed from wastewater.

Ultra-processed foods are only a few steps away from being industrially manufactured, rich in non-nutritive sweeteners, and are designed to be "hyper-palatable." Eating more ultra-processed foods has been linked to increased mortality, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Ultra-processed foods are also environmentally harmful because they use substantial resources, such as energy, water, packaging materials, and plastic waste.

If foods that don't contain sugar, they can receive a "health halo," potentially misleading the public and displacing healthy whole foods in the diet.

Focus on nutrition

It is important to pay attention to unintended consequences when drafting policy to improve public health nutrition. Rather than focusing on particular nutrients, it is worthwhile to advocate for policies that take into account the larger aspects of food, such as cultural significance, processing, and environmental impacts. Such policies should encourage nutritious, minimally processed foods.

We must monitor the growing sweetness of foods and beverages as well as the increasing use of added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners. It is likely to influence our future taste preferences, food choices, and human and environmental health.

Deakin University PhD candidate Cherie Russell; Carley Grimes, Senior Lecturer Population Nutrition; Mark Lawrence, Professor of Public Health Nutrition, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University; Phillip Baker, Research Fellow, Deakin University, and Rebecca Lindberg, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University.

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