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Guinn: Artificial sweeteners and risk

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Guinn: Artificial sweeteners and risk

By Bob Guinn
Clemson Extension Agent
Source: Lowcountry News

The average American eats the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to figures from the most recent federal Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (1994-1996).

Nearly 60 percent of this intake, says the trade group The Sugar Association, is from corn sweeteners, used heavily in sodas and other sweetened drinks. Another 40 percent is from sucrose (table sugar), and a small amount comes from other sweeteners, such as honey and molasses.

There's nothing unusual about craving sweets, experts say. Humans naturally have an appetite for sugary things. But in excess, sugary foods can take a toll.

Large quantities add up to surplus calories, which can contribute to weight gain. In order to lose weight, the total calories from foods, especially those with lots of calories from sugars as well as fats, must be decreased and physical activity increased.

As a result, many consumers seeking to control their weight have turned to sugar substitutes as one way to help lower the daily calorie count without having to give up their favorite foods.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved four sugar substitutes - saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K and sucralose - for use in a variety of foods.

Saccharin and aspartame have been the subject of ongoing controversy that, in the case of saccharin, dates back more than 20 years. Questions still linger about whether saccharin may cause cancer in humans and, though the sweetener is still widely used, it carries a label that warns of its potential risks.

Aspartame has come under fire in recent years from individuals who have used the Internet in an attempt to link the sweetener to brain tumors and other serious disorders. But the FDA stands behind its original approval of aspartame, and subsequent evaluations have shown that the product is safe.

A tiny segment of the population is sensitive to one of the sweetener's byproducts and should restrict intake. However, the agency continually monitors safety information on food ingredients such as aspartame and may take action to protect public health if it receives credible scientific evidence indicating a safety problem.

The FDA also has approved two other artificial sweeteners, acesulfame potassium and sucralose, both of which are available in products such as fruit drinks and gelatin desserts.

First approved in 1988 as a tabletop sweetener, acesulfame potassium, also called Sunett, is now approved for products such as baked goods, frozen desserts, candies and, most recently, beverages. More than 90 studies verify the sweetener's safety.

About 200 times sweeter than sugar and calorie free, acesulfame potassium often is combined with other sweeteners. One major beverage maker mixes acesulfame potassium with aspartame to sweeten one of its diet sodas. Worldwide, the sweetener is used in more than 4,000 products, according to its manufacturer, Nutrinova.

Acesulfame potassium has excellent shelf life and does not break down when cooked or baked.

Also known by its trade name, Splenda, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. After reviewing more than 110 animal and human safety studies conducted over 20 years, the FDA approved it in 1998 as a tabletop sweetener and for use in products such as baked goods, nonalcoholic beverages, chewing gum, frozen dairy desserts, fruit juices and gelatins.

The FDA has amended its regulation to allow sucralose as a general-purpose sweetener for all foods.

Sucralose tastes like sugar because it is made from table sugar. But it cannot be digested, so it adds no calories to food. Because sucralose is so much sweeter than sugar, it is bulked up with maltodextrin, a starchy powder, so it will measure more like sugar. It has good shelf life and doesn't degrade when exposed to heat.

Numerous studies have shown that sucralose does not affect blood glucose levels, making it an option for diabetics.

Though not technically considered artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are slightly lower in calories than sugar and do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose.

They include sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol and maltitol and are used mainly to sweeten sugar-free candies, cookies and chewing gums.

The FDA classifies some of these sweeteners as "generally recognized as safe" and others as approved food additives.

Content provided by U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA Consumer, November-December 1999. Additional content of this article may be found at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fdsugar.html

Clemson Extension Agent Bob Guinn can be reached at 470-3655 or rguinn@clemson.edu

Copyright 2004 Carolina Morning News. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy.



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