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Dispatches from the ISA conference

Low-cal sweeteners can help to fight obesity, say experts

By Nathan Gray , 25-May-2011
Last updated on 25-May-2011 at 12:55 GMT

Increasing the use of sweeteners in foods and drinks will help to reduce the current epidemic of obesity, according to experts.

Speaking at the International Sweetener Association (ISA) conference in Brussels, experts from industry and academia said that low calorie sweeteners can help to fulfil humans innate desire for sweet tastes without allowing over consumption of calories which may lead to weight gain.

Obesity experts, including Dr Tommy Visscher of the Research Centre for the Prevention of Overweight, told the conference that the use of sweeteners in food and beverage formulations can help to fight obesity by reducing energy intakes in foods whilst maintaining good tastes of products.

“Our desire for sweetness hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, but what has altered is that we’re eating more and doing less exercise – all of which is contributing to rising obesity levels,” said Hans Heezen, chairman of the International Sweetener Association.

“Low calorie sweeteners can help provide a solution because they allow you to enjoy that sweet treat without contributing significantly to the overall daily calorie intake” he added.

Sweet desire

Speaking at the conference, Heezen said that the desire to eat sweet things should not be suppressed, but rather managed to allow consumers to enjoy the taste of products without the worry of unnecessary calories.

“Our desire for sweet taste is an essential and basic human characteristic - cutting out sweet foods and drinks is incredibly hard for most people so they're just not going to do it,” said Heezen.

Fighting obesity

Dr Visscher presented the findings of his research into the relationship between energy balance and body weight, noting that minor decreases in body weight can result in significant health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes.

Visscher told the conference that the obesity ‘epidemic’ is a net result of very small increases in body mass over many decades. He said that as such, “the most sensible way to begin to reduce the epidemic is to reverse the small increase to make a small decrease.”

Visscher went on to highlight the potential of low calorie sweeteners as a substitute for sugar in foods and drinks, claiming that the reformulation of such products with reduced calories could play “a significant role” in aiding gradual weight loss.

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