Sugar-free or zero sugar—so what makes it sweet? All you need to know about non-nutritive sweeteners

Sweeteners na stroneSweetenersThe sweeteners commonly used as replacements for natural sugars or natural sweeteners are called artificial sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, non-caloric sweeteners, or sugar substitutes. Most of them are endorsed as safe additives by the FDA or industry, based on industry-funded studies. However, “there is a lack of conclusive evidence-based research to discourage or to encourage their use on a regular basis.” Therefore, they should be consumed only in minimal amounts as a dietary aid for those with diabetes or those on a diet. Even though they promote weight loss, many studies found that they increased overall food intake. In general, there is no adequate evidence that sweetener use is effective in weight management.

Saccharin is the oldest non-nutritive sweetener, known for more than 100 years.

General description It is a non-caloric sweetener that can be heated. “Despite its questionable carcinogenic history, currently there is not enough evidence that identifies it as a carcinogenic agent, and it appears to be safe for consumption among children and adults, including pregnant women and patients with diabetes when quantities consumed are within the ADI recommendations.”
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) 5 mg/kg body weight per day for adults and children
Compared to sugar 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar
Brand names Sweet’N Low®, Sugar Twin®, and Necta Sweet®
E number E954
Used in: soft drinks, baked goods, jams, canned fruit, candy, salad dressing, dessert toppings, chewing gum, a tabletop sweetener; also used in household products such as toothpaste, lip gloss, mouthwash, vitamins, and pharmaceuticals
Body response Saccharin is not metabolized in the gastrointestinal tract and therefore does not affect blood insulin levels.

 

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 but was not approved by USFDA until 1981.

General description Sweetener of insignificant caloric contribution (4kcal/g).Huge majority (92%) of the studies independently funded show that aspartame can cause adverse health effects such as headaches. There are also claims that various health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, attention-deficit disorders, birth defects, cancer and diabetes are associated with consumption of aspartame.“Aspartame remains one of the most controversial and widely used artificial sweeteners today.”
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) 50 mg/kg body weight per day for adults and children
Compared to sugar 200 times sweeter than sugar
Brand names Equal®, NutraSweet®, and Natra Taste®
E number E951
Used in: diet soda, chewing gum, dry drink mixtures, yogurt and pudding, instant tea and coffee &
Body response Aspartame does not generate the same response as sugar does in the brain or the pancreas. Therefore, it does not stimulate an insulin response as sugar does.

 

Acesulfame-K was discovered in 1967. It is widely used in more than 100 countries in more than 5000 products.

General description Non-caloric sweetener, heat stable, can be used in both cooking and baking.“The FDA approved acesulfame-K despite inadequate and poor-quality toxicity tests.”
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) 15 mg/kg body weight per day for adults and children
Compared to sugar 200 sweeter than sugar
Brand names Sunette®, Sweet One®, and Swiss Sweet®
E number E950
Used in: soft drinks, chewing gum, baked foods, gelatin desserts
Body response It passes through the body in unchanged formed and is excreted by the kidneys.

 

Sucralose was discovered in 1976 and US FDA approved in 1998.

General description Non-caloric sweetener, heat stable, can be used in both cooking and baking.“Extensive testing has established an excellent safety profile for sucralose, allowing it to be used among all population groups, including pregnant and nursing mothers.”
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) 5 mg/kg body weight per day for adults and children
Compared to sugar 600 sweeter than sugar
Brand names Splenda®
E number E955
Used in: soft drinks, candies, breakfast bars, canned fruit
Body response It is not recognized by the body as carbohydrate and therefore it is poorly absorbed during digestion process.

 

Tagatose (D-tagatose) is a fructose isomer commonly found in milk and milk products. It is approved by US FDA.

General description Non-caloric sweetener, low glycemic response (GI 3), heat stable, can be used in both cooking and baking.“It contains no toxic, carcinogenic or teratogenic compounds or effects upon consumption.”“D-tagatose could be used safely in products to assist with weight loss as well as diabetes because this sweetener effectively had a zero energy value as revealed via metabolic experimental studies.”
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) “not specified”
Compared to sugar Almost as sweet as sugar (92%)
Brand names Tagatesse®, Sweet Gredients ®, Nutrilatose ®
E number Declared as entirely new food and completely safe, so it’s not considered as additive and has no E-number.
Used in: soft drinks, candies, chocolate and chewing gum
Body response It has a minimal effect on blood glucose and insulin levels. The metabolism of tagatose is identical to fructose metabolism, but tagatose is incompletely absorbed. Around 20% of it is absorbed in the small intestine, and the rest is fermented in the colon. It has been proven that tagatose acts as a prebiotic. It does not promote dental cavities.

 

Sugar alcohols are saccharide derivatives. They are classified as very low caloric value sweeteners with a low glycemic response. Their ADI (adequate dietary intake) is “not specified” according to the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA); sugar alcohols are safe for consumption and no limits for consumption are placed. There is only a recommendation on the maximum amount of daily intake that comes from different scientific publications.

Sugar alcohols are used in the production of: chewing gums, candies, ice cream, baked goods, and fruit spreads. They are also used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, breath mints, and pharmaceuticals such as cough syrups or drops and throat lozenges.

Sugar alcohols undergo limited digestion and absorption due to the fact that they get fermented by gut bacteria. The majority of sugar alcohols have a laxative effect.

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, you would do well to restrict intake. Not all sugar alcohols are metabolized by bacteria in the mouth, and so they do not contribute to tooth decay.

Since many sugar alcohols have a sweetness level much lower than sucrose, they are not usually used solely as sweeteners. They also:

  • regulate moisture content
  • add bulk, texture and stiffness to food
  • prolong the life of certain products and helps regulate
  • create a chewy feel

The popular brand names include: Xylo Sweet®, Truvia, Lacty®, ClearCut™Isomalt.

Sorbitol (glucitol)
E number E420
Compared to sugar 55% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 2.6
GI 4
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 70 g per day.
Mannitol
E number E421
Compared to sugar 50% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 1.6
GI 2
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 20 g per day.
Glycerol (glycerin or glycerine)
E number E422
Compared to sugar 40% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 4
GI 3
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 50 g per day.
Glycerol may not be suitable for vegetarians as it may be derived from animal fat. The origin of the fat, however, should be stated on the list of ingredients.
Isomalt
E number E953
Compared to sugar 50% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 2.1
GI 2
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 20 g per day.
Maltitol
E number E965
Compared to sugar 90% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 2.4
GI 35
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 50 g per day.
Lactitol
E number E966
Compared to sugar 40% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 2
GI 3
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 20 g per day.
Xylitol
E number E967
Compared to sugar 100% as sweet as sucrose
Calories per gram 2.4
GI 10
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 50 g per day.
Erythritol
E number E968
Compared to sugar 65% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 0.2
GI 1
ADI There is no guideline Acceptable Daily Intake set by the FDA but it is not recommended to consume more than 1 g per kg of body weight
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH)
E number HSH is a mixture of sorbitol, maltitol and hydrogenated polysaccharides; therefore, it has no E number.
Compared to sugar 40-90% of sugar sweetness
Calories per gram 3
GI 36
ADI (GRAS) Generally Recognized As Safe

 

Stevia is a natural non-nutritive sweetener isolated from the plant Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni.

General description Non-caloric sweeteners, heat stable, zero glycemic response.No negative side effects have been reported so far. It is a safe sweetener.
Adequate Dietary Intake (ADI) 4 mg/kg body weight per day for adults and children
Compared to sugar 300 sweeter than sugar
Brand names NuStevia ™, Better Stevia™, Sweet Leaf®, Stevita™
E number E960
Used in: soft drinks, table use, natural and health foods, weight-loss blends
Body response Stevia is not absorbed in the small intestine. It is broken down by bacteria in the colon and absorbed and then metabolized in liver and excreted in the urine.

 

Source: Shankar, P., Ahuja, S. & Sriram, K., 2013. Non-nutritive sweeteners: Review and update. Nutrition, 29(11-12), pp.1293–1299. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2013.03.024.

 

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