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A sugar substitute is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. Those that are not natural are, in general, called artificial sweeteners.
An important class of sugar substitutes is known as high-intensity sweeteners. These are compounds with many times the sweetness of sucrose, common table sugar. As a result, much less sweetener is required and energy contribution is often negligible. The sensation of sweetness caused by these compounds (the "sweetness profile") is sometimes notably different from sucrose, so they are often used in complex mixtures that achieve the most natural sweet sensation.
If the sucrose (or other sugar) that is replaced has contributed to the texture of the product, then a bulking agent is often also needed. This may be seen in soft drinks or sweet tea that are labeled as "diet" or "light" that contain artificial sweeteners and often have notably different mouthfeel, or in table sugar replacements that mix maltodextrins with an intense sweetener to achieve satisfactory texture sensation.
In the United States, six intensely sweet sugar substitutes have been approved for use. They are stevia, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharin. There is some ongoing controversy over whether artificial sweetener usage poses health risks. The US Food and Drug Administration regulates artificial sweeteners as food additives. Food additives must be approved by the FDA, which publishes a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list of additives. To date, the FDA has not been presented with scientific information that would support a change in conclusions about the safety of these approved high-intensity sweeteners (with the exception of Stevia, which is exempt under FDA's GRAS policy due to its being a natural substance in wide use well before 1958, and has been approved by FDA). The safe conclusions are based on a detailed review of a large body of information, including hundreds of toxicological and clinical studies.
The majority of sugar substitutes approved for food use are artificially synthesized compounds. However, some bulk natural sugar substitutes are known, including sorbitol and xylitol, which are found in berries, fruit, vegetables, and mushrooms. It is not commercially viable to extract these products from fruits and vegetables, so they are produced by catalytic hydrogenation of the appropriate reducing sugar. For example, xylose is converted to xylitol, lactose to lactitol, and glucose to sorbitol. Other natural substitutes are known, but are yet to gain official approval for food use.
Some non-sugar sweeteners are polyols, also known as "sugar alcohols". These are, in general, less sweet than sucrose but have similar bulk properties and can be used in a wide range of food products. Sometimes the sweetness profile is 'fine-tuned' by mixing with high-intensity sweeteners. As with all food products, the development of a formulation to replace sucrose is a complex proprietary process.
Sugar substitutes are used for a number of reasons, including:
Animal studies have indicated that a sweet taste induces an insulin response in rats. However, the extension of animal model findings to humans is unclear, as human studies of intragastric infusion of sucralose have shown no insulin response from analogous taste receptors. The release of insulin causes blood sugar to be stored in tissues (including fat). In the case of a response to artificial sweeteners, because blood sugar does not increase there can be increased hypoglycemia or hyperinsulinemia and increased food intake the next time there is a meal. Rats given sweeteners have steadily increased calorie intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity (fatness). Furthermore, the natural responses to eating sugary foods (eating less at the next meal and using some of the extra calories to warm the body after the sugary meal) are gradually lost.
A 2005 study by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio showed that increased weight gain and obesity were associated with increased use of diet soda in a population-based study. The study did not establish whether increased weight gain leads to increased consumption of diet drinks or whether consumption of diet drinks could have an effect on weight gain.
The food and beverage industry is increasingly replacing sugar or corn syrup with artificial sweeteners in a range of products traditionally containing sugar.
According to market analysts Mintel, a total of 3,920 products containing artificial sweeteners were launched in the U.S. between 2000 and 2005. In 2004 alone, 1,649 artificially sweetened products were launched. According to market analysts Freedonia, the United States artificial sweetener market is set to grow at around 8% per year to $189 million in 2012.
Aspartame is currently the most popular artificial sweetener in the U.S. food industry, as the price has dropped significantly since the Monsanto Company patent expired in 1992. However, sucralose may soon replace it, as alternative processes to Tate & Lyle's patent seem to be emerging. According to Morgan Stanley, this can mean that the price of sucralose will drop by thirty percent.
Alternative sweeteners are highly consumed in America. According to research studies explained by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in 2003–2004, Americans two years of age and older consumed 585g per day of beverages and 375g per day of foods with caloric sweeteners. More than 66% of Americans consumed these beverages with alternative sweeteners and 82.3% of Americans consumed foods with added caloric sweeteners. On the other hand, 10.8% of Americans in 2003–2004 consumed non-caloric alternative sweetener flavored beverages and 5.8% consumed non-caloric alternative sweetener flavored foods.
Some commonly consumed foods with alternative sweeteners are diet sodas, cereals, and sugar-free desserts such as ice cream. Alternative sweeteners are found in many products today due to their low or non-caloric characteristics. This can be used as a method of advertisement for dieters or those conscious of their sugar intake. Those with diabetes can greatly benefit from alternative sweeteners that do not affect their blood sugar levels drastically. This aids in maintaining low insulin use in the body and blood sugar levels. Alternative sweeteners such as xylitol and saccharin have many positive research results that show qualities of dental decay prevention.
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter at the G.D. Searle company (later purchased by Monsanto). He was working on an anti-ulcer drug and accidentally spilled some aspartame on his hand. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste. It is an odorless, white crystalline powder that is derived from the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar and can be used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatins, beverages, and chewing gum. When cooked or stored at high temperatures, aspartame breaks down into its constituent amino acids. This makes aspartame undesirable as a baking sweetener. It is more stable in somewhat acidic conditions, such as in soft drinks. Though it does not have a bitter aftertaste like saccharin, it may not taste exactly like sugar. When eaten, aspartame is metabolized into its original amino acids. Because it is so intensely sweet, relatively little of it is needed to sweeten a food product, and is thus useful for reducing the number of calories in a product.
The safety of aspartame has been studied extensively since its discovery with research that includes animal studies, clinical and epidemiological research, and postmarketing surveillance, with aspartame being one of the most rigorously tested food ingredients to date. Aspartame has been subject to multiple claims against its safety, including supposed links to cancer as well as complaints of neurological or psychiatric side effects. Multiple peer-reviewed comprehensive review articles and independent reviews by governmental regulatory bodies have analyzed the published research on the safety of aspartame and have found aspartame is safe for consumption at current levels. Aspartame has been deemed safe for human consumption by over 100 regulatory agencies in their respective countries, including the UK Food Standards Agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Canada's Health Canada.
In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of cyclamate in 1970 after lab tests in rats involving a 10:1 mixture of cyclamate and saccharin indicated that large amounts of cyclamates causes bladder cancer, a disease to which rats are particularly susceptible. Cyclamates are still used as sweeteners in many parts of the world, including Europe (e.g. UK and Russia).
Aside from sugar of lead, saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879 by Remsen and Fahlberg. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It had been created in an experiment with toluene derivatives. A process for the creation of saccharin from phthalic anhydride was developed in 1950, and, currently, saccharin is created by this process as well as the original process by which it was discovered. It is 300 to 500 times as sweet as sugar (sucrose) and is often used to improve the taste of toothpastes, dietary foods, and dietary beverages. The bitter aftertaste of saccharin is often minimized by blending it with other sweeteners.
Fear about saccharin increased when a 1960 study showed that high levels of saccharin may cause bladder cancer in laboratory rats. In 1977, Canada banned saccharin due to the animal research. In the United States, the FDA considered banning saccharin in 1977, but Congress stepped in and placed a moratorium on such a ban. The moratorium required a warning label and also mandated further study of saccharin safety.
Subsequently, it was discovered that saccharin causes cancer in male rats by a mechanism not found in humans. At high doses, saccharin causes a precipitate to form in rat urine. This precipitate damages the cells lining the bladder (urinary bladder urothelial cytotoxicity) and a tumor forms when the cells regenerate (regenerative hyperplasia). According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, "Saccharin and its salts was (sic) downgraded from Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans, to Group 3, not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans, despite sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to animals, because it is carcinogenic by a non-DNA-reactive mechanism that is not relevant to humans because of critical interspecies differences in urine composition."
In 2001 the United States repealed the warning label requirement, while the threat of an FDA ban had already been lifted in 1991. Most other countries also permit saccharin, but restrict the levels of use, while other countries have outright banned it.
The EPA has officially removed saccharin and its salts from their list of hazardous constituents and commercial chemical products. In a December 14, 2010, release the EPA stated that saccharin is no longer considered a potential hazard to human health.
Stevia has been widely used as a natural sweetener in South America for centuries and in Japan since 1970. Due to its unique characteristics of zero glycemic index and zero calories, it is fast becoming popular in many other countries. In 1987, the FDA issued a ban on stevia because it had not been approved as a food additive. After being repeatedly provided with a significant amount of scientific data proving that there was no side effect of using stevia as a sweetener from companies such as Cargill and Coca-Cola, the FDA gave a "no objection" approval for GRAS status in December 2008 to Truvia, a blend of rebiana and erythritol (developed by Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company), as well as PureVia (developed by PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a subsidiary of Merisant), both of which use rebaudioside A derived from the Stevia plant. In Australia the brand Vitarium have used Natvia, a natural stevia sweetener to do a range on sugar free children's milk mixes.
Sucralose is a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar. It is produced from sucrose when three chlorine atoms replace three hydroxyl groups. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, it is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods. About 15% of sucralose is absorbed by the body and most of it passes out of the body unchanged. The FDA approved sucralose in 1998.
Most of the controversy surrounding Splenda, a sucralose sweetener, is focused not on safety, but on its marketing. It has been marketed with the slogan, "Splenda is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Sucralose is prepared from either of two sugars, sucrose or raffinose. With either base sugar, processing replaces three oxygen-hydrogen groups in the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.
The "Truth About Splenda" website was created in 2005 by The Sugar Association, an organization representing sugar beet and sugar cane farmers in the United States, to provide its view of sucralose. In December 2004, five separate false-advertising claims were filed by the Sugar Association against Splenda manufacturers Merisant and McNeil Nutritionals for claims made about Splenda related to the slogan, "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar". French courts ordered the slogan to no longer be used in France, while in the U.S. the case came to an undisclosed settlement during the trial.
There are few safety concerns pertaining to sucralose and the way sucralose is metabolized suggests a reduced risk of toxicity. For example, sucralose is extremely insoluble in fat and thus does not accumulate in fatty tissues; sucralose also does not break down and will dechlorinate only under conditions that are not found during regular digestion (i.e. high heat applied to the powder form of the molecule).
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Lead acetate (sometimes called sugar of lead) is an artificial sugar substitute made from lead that is of historical interest because of its widespread use in the past, such as by ancient Romans. The use of lead acetate as a sweetener eventually produced lead poisoning in any individual ingesting it habitually. Lead acetate was abandoned as a food additive throughout most of the world after the high toxicity of lead compounds became apparent.
More recently, mogrosides (typically extracted from monk fruit) have been used in commercial products after the FDA granted some of the compounds GRAS status in 2010. As of 2011, it is not (yet) a permitted sweetener in the EU, although it is allowed as a natural flavor at concentrations where it does not function as a sweetener. Some of the products incorporating it are Nestlé's Milo in Asia and certain Kellogg cereals in the US. It is also the basis of McNeil Nutritionals's tabletop sweetener Nectresse in the US and Norbu Sweetener in Australia. As of 2012, the New Zealand company BioVittoria provides more than 90 percent of the global supply of monk fruit extract; its main manufacturing facility for the product is in Guilin, China.
The three primary compounds used as sugar substitutes in the United States are saccharin (e.g., Sweet'N Low), aspartame (e.g., Equal, NutraSweet) and sucralose (e.g., Splenda, Altern). Maltitol and sorbitol are often used, frequently in toothpaste, mouth wash, and in foods such as "no sugar added" ice cream. Erythritol is gaining momentum as a replacement for these other sugar alcohols in foods as it is much less likely to produce gastrointestinal distress when consumed in large amounts. In many other countries xylitol, cyclamate and the herbal sweetener stevia are used extensively.
The sweetnesses and energy densities are in comparison to those of sucrose.
|Name||Sweetness by weight||Sweetness by food energy||Energy density||Notes|
|Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates||0.4–0.9||0.5×–1.2||0.75|
|Miraculin||A protein that does not taste sweet by itself, but modifies taste receptors to make sour things taste sweet temporarily|
|Monatin||Naturally occurring sweetener isolated from the plant Sclerochiton ilicifolius|
|Monellin||3,000||Protein; the sweetening ingredient in serendipity berries|
|Sorbitol||0.6||0.9||0.65||sugar alcohol, E420|
|Stevia||250||Extracts known as rebiana, Truvia, PureVia; mainly containing rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside|
Comparison of sweetness based on energy content is not meaningful because many artificial sweeteners have little or no food energy.
|Name||Sweetness (by weight)||Trade name||Approval||Notes|
|Acesulfame potassium||200||Nutrinova||FDA 1988||E950|
|Alitame||2,000||approved in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and China.||Pfizer|
|Aspartame||160–200||NutraSweet, Equal||FDA 1981, EU-wide 1994||E951|
|Salt of aspartame-acesulfame||350||Twinsweet||E962|
|sodium cyclamate||30||FDA Banned 1969, approved in EU||E952, Abbott|
|Dulcin||250||FDA Banned 1950|
|P-4000||4,000||FDA banned 1950|
|Saccharin||300||Sweet'N Low||FDA 1958||E954|
|Sucralose||600||Kaltame, Splenda||Canada 1991, FDA 1998, EU 2004||E955, Tate & Lyle|
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