This article and the next provide insight into the nutritive, health benefits of non-nutritive low calorie sweeteners. Low calorie sweeteners (LCS) are ingredients that are added to foods and beverages to provide sweetness without adding significant amounts of calories. In fact, they can also play an important role in a weight management programme that includes both good nutrition choices and physical activity. Saccharine, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, advantame and neotame are six artificial or low- calorie sweeteners that are permitted for use in foods.
Acesulfame potassium or acesulfame K or Ace K: This is a low calorie sweetener that has been used in foods and beverages around the world for the last 20 years. It is made from a process that involves the transformation acetoacetic acid and its combination with the mineral potassium to form a highly stable, crystalline sweetener.
Acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in the manufacture of numerous foods such candies, baked goods, frozen desserts, beverages, dessert mixes and table-top sweeteners. Acesulfame K is stable and retains its sweetness at normal baking temperatures and in combination with acidic ingredients in foods and beverages and can be used alone or blended with other low-calorie sweeteners to produce a more sugar-like taste in foods and beverages. After it is consumed, acesulfame K is not metabolised or stored in the body and is eliminated unchanged by the kidneys. It has no effect on blood glucose, cholesterol or triglyceride levels hence individuals with diabetes may safely include products containing acesulfame K in their diet.
More than 90 scientific studies have demonstrated the safety of acesulfame potassium and there have been no documented health problems in humans from consuming it. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other leading health organisations have found that acesulfame K is safe for all segments of the population including children, pregnant and nursing mothers. Research studies have found no evidence of cancer or tumours with acesulfame K consumption. The US FDA has set an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 15 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight for acesulfame K. The ADI represents the amount of an ingredient that a person can safely consume each day over their entire lifetime.
Aspartame: Aspartame is the most popular and exhaustively studied low calorie sweetener. It consists of the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Although its taste is similar to that of sugar and it provides the same number of calories (4 kcal/gm) like sugar, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and needs to be used in much smaller amounts to sweeten foods and beverages. Since it is used in very small amounts the calories contributed by aspartame per serving is very low. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down to aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol all of which are metabolised normally by the body.
Aspartame is available as a tabletop sweetener in the form of powder or pellets. It is also used in beverages like diet soft drink, flavoured waters, dairy products like yogurt, low-fat flavoured milks, sugar free ice-creams, nutrition bars, sugar-free puddings and gelatins, popsicles, chewing gum, sauces, syrups and condiments. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications and chewable vitamins may also contain aspartame to increase palatability. Aspartame is not well-suited for foods that require baking for a long time at high temperatures, so it’s not commonly used in most baked goods.
Aspartame is a safe LCS and there are over 200 studies supporting its safety. Leading global health authorities such as the US FDA; European Food Safety Authority (EFSA); FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA); Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare; Food Standards Australia New Zealand and Health Canada have found aspartame to be safe. The US FDA has established an ADI for aspartame of 50 mg/kg body weight per day. EFSA has established a slightly lower ADI of 40 mg/kg per day.
Extensive research shows that aspartame does not raise blood sugar levels or otherwise affect blood glucose control in humans and can be safely used by individuals with diabetes. Substituting foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame for their full-sugar counterparts can play a role in weight loss or weight management. To date there is no strong evidence that low-calorie sweeteners, including aspartame increases appetite or cravings in humans. Research conducted over the last three decades has concluded that aspartame is not associated with increased risk of cancer, even among individuals with high aspartame intakes.
All products containing aspartame must carry on the labels statements warning people with Phenylketonuria(PKU) of the presence of aspartame as an ingredient. PKU is a rare genetic disease that makes an affected person unable to properly metabolise the essential amino acid phenylalanine.
To be continued. . .
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on email@example.com)