Aspartame, Sucralose, Ace-K. There are so many artificial sweeteners out there these days-- what are they, exactly, and how do you know if one is right for you? GALTime.com nutritionist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association Elisa Zied has a lesson in Sweeteners 101 for you. Below is an excerpt from her new book Nutrition at Your Fingertips.
Low-calorie sweeteners-also called non-nutritive sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes-provide a sweet taste similar to that of sucrose or table sugar, with few or no calories. They are extremely sweet (often hundreds or thousands of times sweeter than sugar) and are added to diet beverages, yogurt, and other products in very small amounts. They are carefully tested and regulated and have been used safely by consumers for decades.
Currently six low-calorie sweeteners are approved and widely used in the United States. These include (in order of date approved):
. Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
. Rebaudioside A (Reb A or rebiana)
Saccharin, the first approved low-calorie sweetener found in brands including Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, and Sugar Twin, contains no calories and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It passes through the body intact (provides no calories) and is often used in combination with other sweeteners.
Although initially included as a GRAS substance, evidence that saccharin was linked to stomach cancer in rats prompted the FDA to ban saccharin and mandate a warning label on products that contained saccharin. Because later research found no such link in humans, products that contain saccharin no longer have to bear a warning label and it is currently permitted for use under an interim regulation.
Aspartame, found in brands including NutraSweet and Equal, was approved for use in dry foods in 1981, in beverages in 1983, and as a general purpose sweetener in 1986. It provides 4 calories per gram (although it's used in such small amounts that it's virtually calorie free), and it is 180 times sweeter than sugar. It is widely used in foods and beverages and provides a taste similar to that of sucrose.
Aspartame, unlike many other low-calorie sweeteners, is metabolized in the human body. It's made of two naturally occurring amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It also contains methanol, a naturally occurring substance produced by digestion of other food components. Although methanol in large doses can be harmful, the amounts found in foods are generally too low to cause toxicity (except in the case of some unprofessionally distilled alcoholic beverages).
Aspartame is unstable at high temperatures and therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking unless it's added at the end of the cooking process. Although it has been proven safe for use by the general population, those with phenyl-ketonuria (PKU), a rare hereditary disease, need to restrict their intake of any foods that contain phenylalanine. Foods that contain aspartame must include a warning to those with PKU that the product contains phenylalanine. The ADI for aspartame is 50 mg/kg of body weight per day.
SEE ALSO 9.2, "Food Additive Sensitivities"
Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), found in brands such as Sunett, and Sweet One, has been approved since 1988 and provides 200 times the sweetness of sugar. Ace-K is not broken down by the body and is eliminated unchanged by the kidneys. Potassium salt is usually the substance commercially used.
Although Ace-K contains acetoacetomide-a substance that can be toxic if consumed in large amounts-the amount found in Ace-K-containing beverages is very low. Studies on Ace-K have found no human health problems associated with its consumption, and both the FDA and EFSA confirm its safety. It is approved for general use in foods (usually with other low-calorie sweeteners) such as baked goods, frozen desserts, candies, beverages, cough drops, and breath mints. It is not approved for use in meat or poultry. The ADI is 15 mg/kg body weight per day.
Sucralose, found in the brand Splenda, was first approved in 1998 in 15 types of food and beverages and then as a general-purpose sweetener in 1999. It provides no calories and is 600 times sweeter than sugar. More than 100 safety studies had been done on sucralose prior to its approval, and JECFA, EFSA, and FDA also concluded it's safe for consumers (including diabetics) to consume.
Although sucralose is made from sugar, the human body doesn't recognize it as sugar and does not metabolize it. It is heat stable and can be used for cooking, which makes it more versatile than many other low-calorie sweeteners. It is approved as a general-purpose sweetener and is found in beverages, chewing gum, frozen desserts, gelatins, and other foods. The ADI is 5 mg/kg body weight/day.
SEE ALSO 8.3, "Diabetes"
Neotame was approved in 2002 as a general-purpose sweetener. It provides 7,000-13,000 times the sweetness of sugar. It is a derivative of a dipeptide made of the amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid (two of the same components found in aspartame). From 20 to 30 percent of neotame is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract; the rest is converted into compounds that are rapidly excreted by the body.
Prior to its FDA approval, neotame was examined in more than 100 scientific studies, including those with humans where no significant effects were observed. It is also approved for use in several other countries and has received a favorable evaluation by JECFA.
Neotame is heat stable and can be used for cooking and baking. Like other low-calorie sweeteners, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It is approved for use in baked goods, soft drinks, chewing gum, frosting, frozen desserts, jams, jellies, gelatins, puddings, processed fruit and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups. Despite the fact that it contains phenylalanine like aspartame does, a warning statement is not required, possibly because amounts are so small.
Rebaudioside A (Reb A, or Rebiana), found in the brands Truvia and PureVia, was approved in the United States in 2008 and is the newest low-calorie sweetener in the United States. It provides no calories and is 200 times as sweet as sugar. It is purified from the leaf of the stevia plant. In December 2008, the FDA did not object to an expert panel's conclusion that Reb A is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use as a general-purpose sweetener. It is heat stable and can therefore be used for cooking and baking.
WORDS TO GO…
General-purpose sweetener is a sweetener that can be used in all categories of foods and beverages.
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