Sugar substitutes have a history of use in the human diet that dates back farther than you probably realize. For instance, Stevia extracts have been used in other countries for centuries, whereas the U.S. finally gave this sweetener approval in only 2008. We are continuously searching to find the next new and improved low or non-calorie sweetener to meet consumer demand. The rising epidemic of diabetes and obesity, the public demand for more natural products, and consumer worries over side effects, has made the sugar substitute industry of great interest and profit. In this multi-part review you will learn about the background of sugar substitutes, current and the newest sugar substitute products to hit the market, controversies and concerns regarding side effects, and what this means for you as a consumer and alternative sweetener user.
SUGAR SUBSTITUTES | FDA REGULATIONS
Artificial sweeteners are categorized as food additives and as such, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have been since 1958. The majority of sugar substitutes fall within this category. The most commonly known include: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and mostly recently, advantame. Are you surprised to see Splenda listed under artificial? Despite its marketing, Splenda is not a natural substance and although it’s production begins with a sugar molecule, it is chemically altered to it’s final form. The most common natural sugar substitutes include the sugar alcohols, Stevia (derived from the Stevia plant), and mogrosides (typically extracted from Monk Fruit). Although sugar alcohols occur naturally today, they are often obtained through their production from sugar, the end product being identical to the naturally occurring compound. Like all artificial sweeteners, the FDA also regulates the use of sugar alcohols. However, in the case of Stevia and mogrosides, the FDA has declared these products as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) and don’t require FDA approval before sale. This designation is given to substances which have either been deemed as safe based on scientific data, or have had such a long history of common use in food that they’re considered generally safe. In addition, there are Trehalose, extracted from mushrooms, glycyrrhizn, isolated from licorice root and Thaumatin, a protein isolated from the fruit of an African plant named Thaumatococcus daniellii. All are natural products that have been approved by the U.S. FDA and deemed GRAS but are not in wide use as of today. As the demand for all-natural ingredients in foods increases, these sugar substitutes may rise in popularity so, keep an eye out for these! Like many substances regulated by the FDA, sugar substitutes also have an established acceptable daily intake (ADI), which is the amount considered safe to consume every day over the course of your lifetime. If you’re a long time dieter or just have a massive sweet tooth like me you’re probably concerned about going over the ADI, right? Not to worry though, ADIs are intended to be 100 times less than the smallest amount of a substance that might cause health concerns. If you’re consuming enough to go over that, sugar substitutes are probably not your greatest problem.
As a consumer, I’m sure you’re aware of the newest sugar substitutes to hit the shelves. Yes, there are still great options for alternative sweeteners but lets face it, everyone always wants to know who the guys are so, lets introduce them!
TYPES OF SUGAR | NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL
Sugar substitutes can be broken down into two main categories: natural and artificial. In addition, there are the natural, non-sugar sweeteners called sugar alcohols. These products were created to replace sucrose, common table sugar, in order to duplicate the sweet taste of sugar but without the accompanying calories and affect on blood sugar level. Most alternative sweeteners have many times the sweetness of sucrose and as a result, much less sweetener is needed to achieve the same level of sweet flavor. These sweeteners are known as high intensity sweeteners and include: stevia, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, and advantame. In general, sugar alcohols are less sweet than sugar and are often mixed with high intensity sweeteners. The ability of sugar substitutes to closely mimic sugar varies and although a level of sweetness equal to sugar can be easily achieved, drawbacks can include an unpleasant aftertaste and loss of the texture that sugar naturally provides. For most people however, the benefits of using a non-calorie sweetener far outweigh the immediate drawbacks.
NATURAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTE
CHINESE MONK FRUIT
This small green melon has been cultivated for hundreds of years in southern China and Thailand on steep forest mountains, preventing it from being a mainstream crop. Due to the remote areas in which they grew, Buddhist monks were the primary cultivators hence, their nickname, Monk Fruit! In traditional Chinese medicine it has been used in cooling drinks to treat fever and inflammation and to treat diabetes and obesity. The powder extract (80% mogrosides-a carbohydrate) is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar and this natural sugar substitute obtained approval from the FDA as being GRAS in 2010. But don’t worry, there’s no need for rock climbing and harnesses to enjoy this natural wonder as production of this sweetener was taken over by a New Zealand company and is quickly replacing many other artificial sweeteners in all types of products from nutritional supplements (this includes some of the newest or reformulated Prime Nutrition products!!) to “on the go” sugar packets (Nectresse). Given that this sweetener is natural and has been used for centuries without any known adverse effects, you can expect it to grow in popularity and will likely replace even more sugar substitutes in current products. If you’re looking for a go-to all-natural sweetener, free of controversy, this is it!
OTHER NATURAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
- Stevia (Trovia, PureVia, and SweetLeaf Sweetner)
- Trehalose-from mushrooms
- Sugar Alcohols: Erythritol, Xylitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, SDorbitol, Lactitol.
ARTIFICIAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
The FDA approved this new artificial non-caloric sweetener for use in the U.S. in May 2014 for use in foods and beverages except meat and poultry. Water-soluble and stable at high temperature, it can also be used in cooking and baked goods. Chemically similar to aspartame, phenylalanine is also a metabolite however, due to it’s ability to achieve the same level of sweetness as aspartame but at a much smaller amount, foods containing advantame will not carry the alert for people with phenylketonuria (PKU).
OTHER ARTIFICIAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
- Aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Saccharin (Sweet'N Low & Sweet Train)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett and Sweet One)
Once considered the Holy Grail to dieters and diabetics, sugar substitutes are recurrently under great scrutiny for their possible side effects and for complaints of worsening the health conditions that we once thought they were the answer to. These controversies, the other current alternative sweeteners, and what you need to know about them will be covered in part two so, stay tuned and until then, keep living the SWEET life!
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