Sugar substitute

Sugar substitute
Packets of Assugrin, a brand of cyclamate.

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 are 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 that are labeled as "diet" or "light" and 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.[1] Food additives must be approved by the FDA, which publishes a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list of additives.[2] 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.[3]

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.


Reasons for use

Sugar substitutes are used for a number of reasons, including:

  • To assist in weight loss — some people choose to limit their food energy intake by replacing high-energy sugar or corn syrup with other sweeteners having little or no food energy. This allows them to eat the same foods they normally would, while allowing them to lose weight and avoid other problems associated with excessive caloric intake.
  • Dental care — sugar substitutes are tooth-friendly, as they are not fermented by the microflora of the dental plaque. An example of a sweetener that can benefit dental health is xylitol. Xylitol works to prevent bacteria from adhering to the tooth surface, thus preventing plaque formation and eventually decay. The carbohydrates and sugars consumed usually adheres to the tooth enamel. Bacteria can feed upon this food source allowing them to quickly multiply. As the bacteria feed upon the sugar, they convert it to acid waste that in turn decays the tooth structure. Xylitol cannot be fermented by these bacteria, so the bacteria have difficulty thriving, thus helping to prevent plaque formation.[4]
  • Diabetes mellitus — people with diabetes have difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels. By limiting their sugar intake with artificial sweeteners, they can enjoy a varied diet while closely controlling their sugar intake. Also, some sugar substitutes do release energy, but are metabolized more slowly, allowing blood sugar levels to remain more stable over time.
  • Reactive hypoglycemia — individuals with reactive hypoglycemia will produce an excess of insulin after quickly absorbing glucose into the bloodstream. This causes their blood glucose levels to fall below the amount needed for proper body and brain function. As a result, like diabetics, they must avoid intake of high-glycemic foods like white bread, and often choose artificial sweeteners as an alternative.
  • Avoiding processed foods — individuals may opt to substitute refined white sugar with less-processed sugars, such as fruit juice or maple syrup. (See List of unrefined sweeteners).
  • Cost — many sugar substitutes are cheaper than sugar. Alternative sweeteners are often low in cost because of their long shelf-life. This allows alternative sweeteners to be used in products that will not perish after a short period of time.[5]

Health issues

Weight gain and insulin response to artificial sweeteners

Animal studies have indicated that a sweet taste induces an insulin response in rats.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

Food industry usage of artificial sweeteners

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 8.3% per year to $189 million in 2008.[10]

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.[11]

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 or 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 90.3% 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.[12]

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.[13] Alternative sweeteners such as xylitol and saccharin have many positive research results that show qualities of dental decay prevention.[14]

Sugar substitutes commonly used in food


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. It has the same food energy as proteins, but 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 post-marketing surveillance,[15] with aspartame being one of the most rigorously tested food ingredients to date.[16] 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.[17] 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.[15][17][18][19] Aspartame has been deemed safe for human consumption by over 100 regulatory agencies in their respective countries,[19] including the UK Food Standards Agency,[20] the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)[21] and Canada's Health Canada.[22]


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.


Saccharin, historical wrapping; Sugar Museum (Berlin)

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 tablets as sold in health food stores in Germany (EU) in September 2010 (while Stevia is still technically "illegal"). Note the German description reads "Stevia is not a comestible [food] following current European Union regulations", while the French description simply says "Stevia" (which is legally sold as food in France).

Used as a natural sweetener, the herbal supplement Stevia has been widely used for centuries in South America as well as in Japan, which was first commercially by Morita,[23] as a natural sweetener since 1970. Due to its unique characteristics of zero glycemic index and zero calories,[24] 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.[25] 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 to Truvia in December 2008. Truvia is a blend of rebiana and erythritol[26] (developed by Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company) and 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.[27]


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.[28] The FDA approved sucralose in 1998.[29]

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 a chlorinated sugar prepared from either sucrose or raffinose. With either base sugar, processing replaces three oxygen-hydrogen groups in the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms.[30]

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,[31] 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.[30]

Safety concerns pertaining to sucralose revolve around the fact that it belongs to a class of chemicals called organochlorides, some types of which are toxic or carcinogenic; however, the presence of chlorine in an organic compound does not in any way ensure toxicity. The way sucralose is metabolized may suggest a reduced risk of toxicity. For example, sucralose is extremely insoluble in fat and thus does not accumulate in fat as do some other organochlorides; 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).[28]

Lead acetate (historic)

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.

List of sugar substitutes and their equivalent sweetness to sugar

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.

Natural sugar substitutes

The sweetnesses and energy densities are in comparison to those of sucrose.

Name Sweetness by weight Sweetness by food energy Energy density Notes
Brazzein 800 Protein
Curculin 550 Protein
Erythritol 0.7 14 0.05
Glycyrrhizin 50
Glycerol 0.6 0.55 1.075 E422
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates 0.4–0.9 0.5×–1.2 0.75
Isomalt 0.45–0.65 0.9–1.3 0.5 E953
Lactitol 0.4 0.8 0.5 E966
Luo han guo 300
Mabinlin 100 Protein
Maltitol 0.9 1.7 0.525 E965
Mannitol 0.5 1.2 0.4 E421
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
Pentadin 500 Protein
Sorbitol 0.6 0.9 0.65 E420
Stevia 250 Extracts known as rebiana, Truvia, PureVia; mainly containing rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside
Tagatose 0.92 2.4 0.38
Thaumatin 2,000 Protein; E957
Xylitol 1.0 1.7 0.6 E967

Artificial sugar substitutes

Note that because many of these have little or no food energy, comparison of sweetness based on energy content is not meaningful.

Name Sweetness (by weight) Trade name FDA approval Notes
Acesulfame potassium 200 Nutrinova 1988 E950
Alitame 2,000 (Pending) Pfizer
Aspartame 160–200 NutraSweet, Equal 1981 E951
Salt of aspartame-acesulfame 350 Twinsweet E962
Cyclamate 30 (Banned 1969) E952, Abbott
Dulcin 250 (Banned 1950)
Glucin 300
Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone 1,500 E959
Neotame 8,000 NutraSweet 2002
P-4000 4,000 (Banned 1950)
Saccharin 300 Sweet'N Low 1958 E954
Sucralose 600 Kaltame, Splenda 1998 E955, Tate & Lyle

See also


  1. ^ FDA No Calories... Sweet!
  2. ^ "US FDA Website Guidance Documents". 
  3. ^ "FDA's response to European Aspartame Study". 
  4. ^ C (2010). "Unique Sweetener Supports Oral health". 
  5. ^ Coultate, T. (2009). Food: The chemistry of its components. Cambridge, UK: The Royal Society of chemistry
  6. ^ Jang, H. -J.; Kokrashvili, Z.; Theodorakis, M. J.; Carlson, O. D.; Kim, B. -J.; Zhou, J.; Kim, H. H.; Xu, X. et al. (2007). "Gut-expressed gustducin and taste receptors regulate secretion of glucagon-like peptide-1". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (38): 15069–15074. Bibcode 2007PNAS..10415069J. doi:10.1073/pnas.0706890104. PMID 17724330.  edit
  7. ^ Ma, J.; Bellon, M.; Wishart, J. M.; Young, R.; Blackshaw, L. A.; Jones, K. L.; Horowitz, M.; Rayner, C. K. (2009). "Effect of the artificial sweetener, sucralose, on gastric emptying and incretin hormone release in healthy subjects". AJP: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 296 (4): G735–G739. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.90708.2008.  edit
  8. ^ Swithers SE, Davidson TL (2008). "A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats". Behav Neurosci 122 (1): 161–73. doi:10.1037/0735-7044.122.1.161. PMID 18298259. 
  9. ^ DeNoon, Daniel J. Reviewed by Charlotte Grayson Mathis MD. "Drink More Diet Soda, Gain More Weight? Overweight Risk Soars 41% With Each Daily Can of Diet Soft Drink", WebMD Medical News (2005), accessed 2007-06-25
  10. ^ Sugar demand rising at expense of sweeteners, claims sugar industry
  11. ^ Sucralose breakthrough could smash Tate & Lyle monopoly
  12. ^ Mattes, R.D. & Popkin, B.M. (January 2009). "Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(1) 1-14. Accessed 2010-11-20 doi:10.39451ajcn.2008.26792
  13. ^ Mela, D. (ed.). (2005). Food, diet and obesity. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing Limited.
  14. ^ Coultate, T. (2009). Food: The chemistry of its components. Cambridge, UK: The Royal Society of Chemistry.
  15. ^ a b EFSA National Experts (May 2010). "Report of the meetings on aspartame with national experts". EFSA. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  16. ^ Mitchell, Helen (2006). Sweeteners and sugar alternatives in food technology. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 94. ISBN 1-4051-3434-8 
  17. ^ a b Magnuson BA, Burdock GA, Doull J, et al. (2007). "Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, and toxicological and epidemiological studies". Crit. Rev. Toxicol. 37 (8): 629–727. doi:10.1080/10408440701516184. PMID 17828671. 
  18. ^ Food Standards Australia New Zealand: "Food Standards Australia New Zealand: Aspartame – what it is and why it's used in our food". Retrieved 2008-12-09. [dead link]
  19. ^ a b Butchko HH, Stargel WW, Comer CP, et al. (April 2002). "Aspartame: review of safety". Regul. Toxicol. Pharmacol. 35 (2 Pt 2): S1–93. doi:10.1006/rtph.2002.1542. PMID 12180494. 
  20. ^ "Aspartame". UK FSA. 17 June 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "Aspartame". EFSA. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  22. ^ "Aspartame". Health Canada. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Sweet on Stevia: Sugar Substitute Gains Fans, Columbia Daily Tribune, 23 March 2008
  26. ^ New Artificial Sweetener
  27. ^ Newmarker, Chris (2008). "Federal regulators give OK for Cargill's Truvia sweetener". Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. Retrieved 18 December 2008. 
  28. ^ a b Daniel JW, Renwick AG, Roberts A, Sims J (2000). "The metabolic fate of sucralose in rats". Food Chem Tox 38 (S2): S115–S121. doi:10.1016/S0278-6915(00)00034-X. 
  29. ^ FDA approves new high-intensity sweetener sucralose
  30. ^ a b Bitter Battle over Truth in Sweeteners
  31. ^ Truth About Splenda, Sugar Association website

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • sugar substitute — noun A food additive that replicates the sweetness of sugar but is not sugar …   Wiktionary

  • sugar substitute — synthetic noncaloric replacement for sugar …   English contemporary dictionary

  • noncaloric sugar substitute — sweetener that does not contain sugar and has 0 calories (used for dieting) …   English contemporary dictionary

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  • Sugar — For other uses, see Sugar (disambiguation). For common table sugar, see Sucrose. White sugar redirects here. For the Joanne Shaw Taylor album, see White Sugar (album) …   Wikipedia

  • substitute — sub|sti|tute1 [ˈsʌbstıtju:t US tu:t] n [Date: 1400 1500; : Latin; Origin: , past participle of substituere to put in place of , from statuere; STATUTE] 1.) also sub someone who does someone else s job for a limited period of time, especially in a …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • substitute — 1 noun (C) 1 someone who does someone else s job for a limited period of time especially in a sports team or performance: The lead singer was ill and her substitute wasn t nearly as good. 2 something new or different that you use instead of… …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • sugar-free — adjective Of food, drink, medication, chewing gum, etc, not containing sugar (and usually sweetened with a sugar substitute instead) …   Wiktionary

  • Sugar — Sug ar, n. [OE. sugre, F. sucre (cf. It. zucchero, Sp. az[ u]car), fr. Ar. sukkar, assukkar, fr. Skr. [,c]arkar[=a] sugar, gravel; cf. Per. shakar. Cf. {Saccharine}, {Sucrose}.] 1. A sweet white (or brownish yellow) crystalline substance, of a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Sugar barek — Sugar Sug ar, n. [OE. sugre, F. sucre (cf. It. zucchero, Sp. az[ u]car), fr. Ar. sukkar, assukkar, fr. Skr. [,c]arkar[=a] sugar, gravel; cf. Per. shakar. Cf. {Saccharine}, {Sucrose}.] 1. A sweet white (or brownish yellow) crystalline substance,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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