Responses to the WHO Report on Non-Sugar Sweeteners

The WHO Report on Non-Sugar Sweeteners

The World Health Organisation released it's guidelines on non-sugar sweeteners recently and recommended we do not consume these products. They have no nutritional value and might even have adverse effects on our health. 

When we looked into some of the media around this report, we found it quite shocking to see Stevia's name alongside a list of artificial sweeteners - especially as Stevia hardly featured in the report, and when it did, the results were overwhelmingly positive.  

For the report to recommend against consuming "non sugar sweeteners" like Stevia is perplexing and frankly, frustrating. 

Let me share our thoughts on all of this.

Fail #1: A Lazy (Mis)Classification 

First up let's look at why Stevia was included.

Here's the kicker: the definition of "non-sugar sweeteners" was made to include those with zero calories or nutritional content and as Stevia has zero calories and no vitamins, it was included along with a range of artificial sweeteners

Stevia actually came out with resoundingly positive results and is extremely good for our health. Sadly the information on how good it is for you seems to have been ignored due to a misguided classification to focus defining "non-sugar" as "zero calorie". 

In a world awash with high calorie refined sugars, why include a good thing on a bad list, just because it has no calories? It's almost as though this was decided by the sugar lobby itself. 

Fail #2: A Lazy Generalisation

Next we should look at some of the sweeping generalisations that were made.

Just 3 of the 46 randomly controlled studies reviewed within the report focused exclusively on Stevia. To ignore all the positive results that were attributed to Stevia and the fact that it only appeared in 5 lines (out of 210 pages) is lazy at best. 

To generalise the results like this is appalling:

"Results of the review also suggest that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of [non-sugar sweeteners], such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults."

As demonstrated in the report itself, Stevia has absolutely no association with any of this nastiness. Stevia has been consumed by humans and used as a medicinal herb for 1500 years, with no downside! 

Why ignore the obvious positives and produce a lazy umbrella generalisation? 

Fail #3: The Biased/Lazy Media

Finally we need to consider how the media picks it up and twists it. This is where there the real damage occurs.

Journalists see the classification as "non-sugar" and they see the list of sweeteners included in the report: acesulfame K, aspartame, advantame, cyclamates, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, stevia and stevia derivatives.

They then go on to conflate the WHO report on "non-sugar sweeteners" with "artificial sweeteners" and include Stevia under the heading "WHO rejects artificial sweeteners". 

Good grief. It makes me wonder who pays for the advertising at CNBC and other mainstream media organisations. 

Stevia is a plant. You do not require a laboratory to make it. In fact you can pick some up at your local garden store

The damage will be done though, and I suspect we will be forever fielding questions about the "safety" of Stevia. This is bad for people who could benefit from this natural herb.

Official Responses

Here is the response from two organisations that responded to the report: the International Sweetener Association (ISA) and the Calorie Control Council. You can read the details by clicking the hyperlink.


International Sweeteners Association response to World Health Organisation guideline on low/no calorie sweeteners

"the ISA believes it is a disservice to public health to not recognise low/no calorie sweeteners’ role in reducing sugar and calorie intake and aiding in weight control."


Health Benefits & Established Safety of Low and No Calorie Sweeteners Supported by Decades of Scientific Experience

"The Calorie Control Council strongly disagrees with this recommendation and reaffirms the documented health benefits and longstanding safety of non-sugar sweeteners"

Learn More:

In Summary

  • The WHO should feel ashamed of themselves for including a natural plant when making generalisations about artificial sweeteners. Despite Stevia only appearing 5 times in 210 pages and unlike the results for artificial sweeteners, Stevia is very good for you. It just has zero calories. 
  • The WHO completely failed to mention any of the positives derived from Stevia and opted to include it in their generalisations - solely because it has zero calories.
  • The media should feel ashamed for conflating "non-sugar" as "artificial" and for including Stevia under the heading "artificial". 
  • People that read the report will see the overwhelmingly positive results for Stevia. We encourage them to read more research.
  • We remain very confident in the natural sweeteners that we represent and will continue to seek out research to back up their safety and efficacy. 
  • We will continue stay away from the artificial and synthetic ones.


Obviously we sell natural sweeteners, so we have a horse in this race so to speak, and potential for bias here. This is why I have included links to the report and quoted directly from it. We say "no" to laboratory-made artificial sweeteners, and "yes" to sweeteners arise in nature, but we would encourage our customers to dig deeper to find more information. 

Also Read

Health Benefits of Stevia

Stevia & the WHO Report

Food & Safety Australia & New Zealand safety report - link to report

Read the Report Summary

Use of non-sugar sweeteners