Food Sweeteners: Quick Facts

It’s December 1st today and I’m very sure most people reading this post are in the festive spirit already. Well, not to burst your bubbles, I thought to write on the issue of food sweeteners in most of our staple foods and drinks. So guys, when I’m usually asked, “do sweeteners contribute to the risk of obesity?” I like to render the needed nutrition education to address this frequently asked question (FAQ).

It is without doubt that the cornerstone of good nutrition and dietary habits is balance, variety and moderation. That is why at Diet234 we subscribe to the nutrition principle that all foods and beverages can have a place in a sensible, adequate diet when combined with regular physical activity. It is important to remember that all calories count in maintaining a healthy weight, including calories from caloric beverages.

Consumers who want to reduce the calories they consume from beverages can choose from the continuously expanding portfolio of no- and low-calorie beverages of for instance, the Coca-Cola brand (being that they are the most populous and highly favorite), as well as their regular beverages but in smaller portion sizes.

Now, there are wide variety of food sweeteners in the food production industry and market. These food sweeteners can be categorized into two types.

  1. Calorie sweeteners like sugar; these provide 16 calories per teaspoon.
  2. Low- and No- calorie sweeteners; these provide few or no calories.

Calorie sweeteners:

  • Table sugar or sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It is a carbohydrate and provides 4 calories (17 kilojoules) per gram. The amount of sugar in sparkling beverages is about the same as the amounts found in many fruit juices. Fruit juices also provide other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn. It is used to sweeten many foods and beverages sold in the United States and other countries. It has the same number of calories as table sugar (i.e. 4 calories = 17 kilojoules per gram) and is nutritionally equivalent to sugar.

Low- and No- calorie sweeteners:

  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K or acesulfame K) is a no-calorie sweetener that is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Thousands of food and beverage products sweetened with acesulfame K can be found in approximately 90 countries, including Australia, Canada, most of Europe, Japan and the United States.
  • Aspartame (now aka “Amino sweet” by FDA) is one of the most thoroughly researched food ingredients in use today. It is 180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in more than 6000 products around the world. Aspartame has been approved by authorities including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is permitted for use in foods and beverages in more than 100 countries. People with a rare genetic condition, phenylketonuria (PKU) should not consume aspartame because it contains the amino acid phenylalanine. Products that contain aspartame provide an advisory statement about the presence of phenylalanine in the U.S. and most countries.
  • Cyclamate is a low-calorie sweetener approximately 30 times sweeter than sugar. Although the U.S. FDA withdrew its approval of cyclamate in 1969, since then, more than 75 scientific studies have proven it to be safe for human consumption. Independent scientists of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) have consistently affirmed the safety of cyclamate for use as a sweetener in foods and beverages, as have regulatory agencies in Australia, Europe and many other countries. As a result, cyclamate is now permitted for use in more than 50 countries around the world.
  • Saccharin is a no-calorie sweetener approximately 300 times as sweet as sugar. It has been used in foods and beverages for more than 125 years. Saccharin is permitted for use in foods and beverages in more than 100 countries around the world, and is safe for all populations.
  • Stevia Extract is made from the best-tasting part of the leaf of the Stevia plant and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Truvia™ is the brand name for stevia extract used in most beverages e.g. Coca-Cola. Stevia extract’s safety has been established through more than 25 years of scientific research and the publication of safety studies from a rigorous, comprehensive scientific research program commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company and Cargill. Stevia extract achieved “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) status in the United States in December 2008 and has been recognized as safe by the FAO, WHO and JECFA. Stevia extract is permitted for use in foods and beverages in 30 countries. For instance, The Coca-Cola Company has more than 20 beverages sweetened with stevia extract in combination with other natural sweeteners like fruit juices, sugar, and other low- and no-calorie sweeteners in several countries.
  • Sucralose is derived from sugar but is 600 times sweeter. It does not contribute calories to the diet. It is permitted for use in foods and beverages in more than 40 countries, including Australia, Canada, Mexico and the United States. Numerous studies have shown that sucralose can be safely consumed by people with diabetes.

Please, as we indulge in the consumption of conventional food products both foods and beverages, we must remember that portion control is key to healthy eating and happy living. Happy New Month everyone!

Additional resource:

Calorie Control Council for low-calorie sweetener information – www.caloriecontrol.org

International Food Information Council – www.ific.org

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