Advancement of Food Science and Technology have gifted us with varied technological tools which has profound effect on our Diet and Health. Food Processing and Food Packaging have had tremendous effect on food renovations and reformulations to suit preferences and choices of consumers with multiple need states. One such technological tool is available in the form of Low-calorie sweeteners which have made it possible to deliver on sweetness of food and beverages without contributing to the calorie intake. These low and no calorie sweeteners are called by multiple names like High Intensity sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners, sugar substitutes, non-caloric sweeteners etc. Low and no calorie sweeteners are food ingredients and/or additives with sweet taste and no, or virtually no, calories. These are used in foods and beverages as well as in table-top sweeteners in place of sugar to provide the desired sweetness with fewer or zero calories. The most known and commonly used low and no calorie sweeteners worldwide are Acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame-K), Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Neotame, Thaumatin and Steviol glycosides.
It is important to be aware of the scientific aspects of Low and No calorie sweeteners so that these technological tools are leveraged for consumer benefits for the intended outcomes. Here are some of the key facts about these sweeteners:
- These sweeteners are most researched food additives, used in very miniscule amounts in food and beverages to impart a sweet taste, without contributing to calories.
These sweeteners are either extracted from natural ingredients or synthesized from other ingredients. For example, Stevia as a sweetener is extracted from the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Thaumatin is a naturally occurring sweetener derived from West African katemfe fruit. The other sweeteners like Aspartame, Ace-sulphame potassium, Sucralose are synthesized under controlled conditions from the time of their discovery as sweet molecules since several years. Most of these sweeteners are used in unique combinations to create the desired sweet taste profile for food and beverages. These sweetener molecules are several hundred times sweeter than sugar defined by their sweetness intensity, and hence these are used in miniscule amounts to impart sweetness.
- The safety of these sweeteners is backed by strong evidence-based science
These sweeteners are well researched ingredients as these are subjected to a series of safety and toxicological studies conducted by credible regulatory and scientific bodies across the world such as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) etc. These leading scientific authorities have assessed the safety of these sweeteners in all population groups and have assigned a Health Based Guideline value called Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) which is defined as an estimate of the amount of a food additive, expressed on a body weight basis that can be ingested daily over a lifetime by normal healthy person of all age groups including children without appreciable health risk.
All studies were conducted at doses 1000x greater than the human use level.
- ADI is based on the most sensitive critical health outcome in the most sensitive species.
- ADI is established to protect the most sensitive sub-population, including pregnant women and children.
- Based on body weight and adjusted for age and size.
- ADI is intended to cover exposure of toddlers and children, the fetus during pregnancy and the neonatal and young infant periods.
- If there is scientific evidence that infants and children are more sensitive to a sweetener, that evidence must be used in derivation of ADI.
- The entire metabolic pathway of each sweetener like Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, Excretion is studied in most sensitive population in all age groups to establish the safety and hence ADI.
- Based on the ADIs of sweeteners and their functional use in food products, the limits of these sweeteners are decided by Global regulatory authorities like Codex Alimentarius. This is how these sweeteners are included as safe food additives in General Standard of Food additives (GSFA). Based on the approval of these sweeteners in Codex, national regulatory authorities like Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), Health Canada, Singapore Agi-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety (CFS), Korea National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation (NIFDS), Thailand Food and Drug Administration (TFDA), and several other authorities have accorded approval of these sweeteners in diverse categories of food and beverages.
Properties of common sweeteners – Synopsis
|Sweetener Name||Year Approved||Composition||ADI for adults and children as per JECFA* (mg/kg/body weight)||Sweetness intensity (sweetening power compared to sucrose)||Amount in mg used to replace 10 gm of sucrose||Metabolic and Physiological properties|
|Aspartame||1982 (US)/1984 (EU)
|Aspartame is made from two amino acids Aspartic acid and Phenylalanine. These are found
naturally in the diet.
|40||200||50||Digested like other proteins to its components all of which occur in the diet in greater quantity.|
|A combination of organic acid and potassium||15||200||50||Not metabolized by the human body and excreted|
|Derived from sugar in a process that selectively substitutes three||15||600||6||Not metabolized by the human body and excreted|
|Saccharin Sodium||1911 (US)/1977 (EU)
|Sodium salt of an organic acid||5||500||20||Not metabolized by the human body and excreted|
|Steviol Glycosides||2009 (US)/2011 (EU)
|Steviol glycosides are natural sweet tasting constituents of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to South America. Steviol glycoside preparations usually contain as the major components the glycosides Stevioside and Rebaudioside A.||4 (expressed as Steviol equivalents )||200-300||30-50||Steviol glycosides are broken down to steviol in the gut. Steviol is excreted in the urine as steviol glucuronide.|
- JECFA – Joint Expert Committee of Food Additive
- Use of these sweeteners in various food and beverages enables significant reduction of sugar intake in daily diet.
By using low and no calorie sweeteners in place of sugar and other caloric sweeteners in various foods of our daily diet, we can significantly reduce calorie intake from the replaced sugar. Here are some of the common examples of Sugar Swaps in food and beverages, this shows how much of calorie we can save by consuming the less sugar, equivalently sweetened versions of each of these:
|Food||Sugar Sweetened version||Low calorie version with sweeteners||How much you save on calories|
|Black Tea-Coffee (one cup)||1.5 spoon sugar =24 kcal||<1 kcal, Zero sugar||24 kcal|
|Cola Soda (200 ml)||20 gms of Sugar = 80 kcal||<1 kcal, Zero sugar||80 kcal|
|Ice Cream (100 gm) (full fat version)||22 gms of sugar, 170 kcal||8 gms of sugar, 120 kcal||50 kcal|
|1 portion (200 gm) of low fat fruit (1%) yoghurt||25 gms of sugar, 160 kcal||15 gms of sugar, 110 kcal||50 kcal|
|One tea-spoon (20 gms) of Jam||10 gms of sugar, 40 kcal||2.5 gms of sugar, 10 kcal||30 kcal|
With the evolving lifestyle and the changing demographics of our society, consumers are looking for newer and diverse choices to suit their individual lifestyle needs and preferences. In this respect, it is essential that Nutritionists, Dietitians, Food Scientists come together to propagate the science on low and no calorie sweeteners so that these are used judiciously and consciously for our Diet and Lifestyle Management.