UK Sugar Tax Causes A Huge Increase in Artificial Sweeteners

The UK “sugar tax” was created with the objective to improve public health. This Soft Drink Levy imposes a charge of 18p per litre on drinks containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml, and 24p per litre for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml. It came into full effect on the 6th April 2018.

As a health site, you may think that I would support it. However from the moment it was announced I imagined it would result in manufacturers changing recipes to replace one harmful ingredient with another. That’s exactly what has happened.

Sugar Replaced With Artificial Sweeteners

Many brands have halved the sugar content and made up for this with artificial sweeteners. Re-formulated drinks include Lilt, Fanta orange, Ribena, Lucozade and Iron Brew. Ribena for some reason lists its product as artificial sweetener free but contains acesulfame-k and sucralose.

Coca-cola “original” is one of the few brands that hasn’t changed its recipe, it has 10.6g of sugar per 100ml. But Coke does have a wide variety of products and has notoriously faced huge backlashes whenever it changes the recipe. Since they introduced Coke Life as a “natural alternative” I always think of normal coke as Coke Death.

Artificial sweeteners are now endemic across all drinks, not just the diet drinks. The brand leader of tonic water in the UK has been adding aspartame to its non-diet drink for a while now.

Coke Life and Coke Death

Encouraging the “Healthy Choice”

Ministers are declaring this a success as their apparent aim was to reduce the sugar rather than make revenue. They claim that this is “encouraging a healthy diet” by having people consume more artificial sweeteners and less sugar. Don’t get me wrong, refined sugar is detrimental to health, but there is no conclusive evidence that artificial sweeteners are any better.

Sugar has been consumed for thousands of years and the effects are well understood. Artificial sweeteners are a very new addition to the human diet. They have always been controversial with some banned in the past like cyclamate and saccharin due to links to cancer and other illnesses.

The tax was created assuming people would have less sugar and this is better for health. Rather than looking at the complete and long-term picture. Typical government short-term isolated thinking in the past has made very damaging decisions. Like promoting diesel vehicles as they have lower emissions. However diesel emissions have more particulates and these are significantly worse for health. Issues with diesel and air quality were known before the government made the push towards diesel. The illegal and toxic air quality in London is mainly from nitrogen dioxide emitted from diesel vehicles. London pollution has been exasperated by the push for diesel taxis and this is having a detrimental effect on health. Sorry for the digression but did want to point out the common flaws in isolated government short-term thinking and the unintended consequences.

Apple Cider Lemonade Vegan

Are Artificial Sweeteners Healthier Than Sugar?

The most used artificial sweetener is aspartame and this has been subject to many controversies over the years. Supporters say it has been studied extensively and it’s safe to consume in moderate amounts. The same could be said for sugar, so that does question the drive to convert people from sugar to artificial sweeteners.

Opponents of aspartame/artificial sweeteners claim they ruin the taste, cause obesity due to a very sweet taste with no calories causing people to eat more and are linked to cancers. Many people do experience headaches, migraines and other side effects from artificial sweeteners. These rather amusing sugar-free gummy bear reviews show that some sweeteners commonly cause very noticeable and quick stomach and digestive issues in small amounts.

The artificial sweeteners that manufacturers are now replacing sugar with are the cheapest to produce but also have the longest list of side effects and concerns. These are all approved and licensed for use but that doesn’t mean they are healthy.

NHS advice is always several decades behind, they only recently stopped promoting trans-fat laden margarine and refined oil spreads as a healthy choice. The NHS smart swap programme is supported by manufacturers of junk food that are selling smaller portions of the junk food to meet the “100 calories healthy snack” guidelines or food that has had sugar replaced with artificial sweeteners.

I’ve yet to see any conclusive evidence that swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners is better for overall health. One study shows that rats fed aspartame had a lower body mass, but more gut bacteria and increased blood sugar. Again highlighting the issue of just concentrating on one factor rather than the overall picture.

Aspartame

Experts Beleive Aspartame Causes Neurological Effects

A new report published in Jul 2019 calls for a ban on aspartame while further tests are carried out on its safety.

Professor Erik Millstone from the University of Sussex claims that between 2-10% of people suffer noticeable neurological effects including dizziness, blurred vision, headaches and in some extream cases seizures.

‘I have had about 250 people come to me saying they think aspartame caused a problem,’ he said.

‘I would describe it as strong circumstantial evidence that they have had neurological symptoms and have eventually come to the conclusion aspartame was responsible.’

Since 1974 scientists have been warning about aspartame and it’s potential to cause cancer and brain damage. A study in 2010 linked found that women that drank diet sodas were more likely to give birth prematurely.

Fizzy Water is Detrimental to Tooth Health

Just sparkling water alone can be detrimental to teeth as it is more acidic than regular water. Constantly exposing teeth to just fizzy water causes tooth erosion. While it’s better than sugary drinks it’s not ideal. Still water is the safest drink to sip throughout the day as it contains a PH value of 7.

Dentists are generally supportive of the sugar tax, however dentists only care about teeth and not general health. They are right to be worried as tooth decay is the number 1 reason for child hospital admissions in the UK.  These issues can’t be solved overnight by replacing sugar with sweeteners. Long-term effective solutions could involve education and gradually weening people off these super sweet drinks. Due to the nature of governments no one thinks long term.

Use a straw to avoid tooth damage from fizzy drinks.

Elderflower Lemon Water

Final Word

The only conclusion I can draw from this is more information and research is needed. To actually show if the UK soft drink tax will benefit public health overall or just create new issues. This isn’t the time to sit back and congratulate but rather the time to double down on the details and push for more research.

The soft drink levy/sugar tax and the increased use of artificial sweeteners won’t personally affect me. I didn’t consume these soft drinks before and still won’t now. I’m highly sceptical if overall health will actually improve.

Please let me know what you think of this in the comments below or on social media @nestandglow / @bastiandurward.

8 thoughts on “UK Sugar Tax Causes A Huge Increase in Artificial Sweeteners”

  1. It sucks big time for me as someone with a serious chronic bowel disease. All of these artificial sweeteners are dreadful and make an already runny bot much much worse. Bowel cramps aplenty. TAX = CASH. SIMPLES.

  2. I have always hated the taste of all sweeteners like aspartame and Stevia. Why don’t manufacturers just remove some of the sugar and not replace it at all, with anything? I personally wouldn’t mind my drinks tasting a little sharper.

  3. There is proven links with health issues and cancer from these substances and i was shocked in the cinema last week to find out they stopped selling sugar drinks in place of a cup of cancer. I was furious, but population control with cancer and taxes/money are all the criminal organization we call a government are interested in.

    1. I could not have said that better myself. Like your reading my mind!
      I complained to the cinema and told them that they would rather induce cancer on me and my son that provide a natural product thats safe.

      The woman was baffled and clueless to the dangers.

  4. I’m American and when I first visited London earlier this year I couldn’t figure out why the sodas tasted atrocious. I’m back here currently and as I drunk a cup I immediately understood what it was: aspertame and sucralose. Looked at the label, bam. Gross. Every soda here is diet soda. I rarely drink it myself but occasionally I’ll indulge, so obesity was never an issue. Crazy how much freedom this country doesn’t have. Cooking oils, simple carbohydrates, and salt taxes coming soon!

  5. Anyone who cares about their health will speak out against the atrosity of chemical sweetners. We live in an age of revolution and we must fight the multinational corporations whose bottom line is cold hard cash and let the people and environment die.
    Thanks for writing about this Bastien, if we eliminate ALL prepackaged goods out health will thrive. Your recipes are wonderful examples.
    Love the “dead coke” reference, btw.

  6. Where as before the sugar tax I could enjoy an occasional 7up, it being a drink without colours and other things that affect me, I no longer drink it because I do not know the long term affect on health. I try very hard to avoid these sweeteners.
    I would like to just have the option to have only sugar in my drink. Reduce the sugar yes. I drink water with a slice of lemon in, no sweeteners at all. I make cakes with reduced sugar and do not put sugar in savoury foods, and drink herb teas without sugar. I had better enjoy jam before the sugar is all taken out of that too.

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