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Friday, February 8, 2008

What Could Be Sweeter?

Now that I've laid the foundation for understanding the primary components of food, its time to move into some new territory. At the suggestion of my wonderful fitness instructor, the next topic is sweeteners. Now those of you who have been reading this blog since its inception are probably thinking "didn't she already cover those in her posts on carbs?" Well, yes and no. I did talk about nutrative sweetners like fructose, sucrose and dextrose, but the world of sweetners extends beyond that category.

Sweetners can be nutrative or non-nutrative (which means they do or don't provide calories), high or low intensity (which is their degree of sweetness), and natural or artificial (not as clear as you might be thinking). Sucrose (aka sugar) is the benchmark by which other sweetners are measured; we judge them by how many times sweeter or less sweet they are relative to sucrose. It will take me a few posts to cover this topic, and I promise to leave out the chemistry and just give you the interesting overviews.

Let's start with the FDA approved sweetners. Currently the FDA allows five sweetners for use in food: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose. Most, if not all of these, have been both praised and villified by proponents and critics. I don't claim to be either and I doubt I will change anyone's mind about their use, but I do hope you keep an open mind and at least read the information I provide. I also hope that it encourages you to want to learn more about these types of ingredients.

Acesulfame potassium is also known as Acesulfame K, Ace K, and Sunette®. It is a non-nutrative, high intensity sweetner developed in Germany in 1967, and was first approved for use in England in 1983. The US took a bit longer to approve its use - the Food & Drug Administration granted approval for its use in soft drinks in 1998 and for its general use in 2003. We don't metabolize (break down) this product, so it leaves us in the same chemical structure as we consume it (I'll trust the experts on this one - I don't want to run this test!) . This also means that it does not elicit a insulin response, great news for diabetics, nor does it cause a "sugar crash". It is heat, acid and alkaline stable which allows it to be used in a wide range of products from beverages to baked goods to tabletop sweetners. Ace K is often mixed with other high intensity sweeteners because it acts synergistically to enhance the sweetening power allowing for a lower usage rate of both sweeteners. This sweetner is used in over 5000 products all over the world.

And although there have been claims about Ace K causing everything from headaches, to weight gain, to hypersensitivity to light, there are no scientific studies from reputable sources to back up the claims. Over 90 studies have been performed and all have been unable to substantiate the claims. Not only the FDA, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), the Commission of the European Union (EU), and the Japanese Department of Health (MHW) have all given their approval to this ingredient. You can even view the Material Safety Data Sheet which is what we in the industry use to judge the safety of the ingredients we use (just remember, this MSDS is for just the acesulfame potassium as a raw ingredient, something I'll play with in my job, but something you will unlikely ever encounter.)

So, that is the first segment on sweeteners - I promise to cover the other approved sweetners on the next post so make sure to come back!

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