One of the major uses of artificial sweeteners is to prevent dental caries, childhood obesity, and behavioral diseases. They are also called ‘sugar substitutes’. Generally, artificial sweeteners are designated as food additives which are expressed as accepted daily intake (ADI). Whereas nutritive sweeteners are classified as ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) substances.
Obesity and diabetes are two major public health problems that lead to several other medical conditions. A major goal in both these problems is to reduce calorie intake. ‘Table sugar’ or ‘cane sugar’ is the disaccharide molecule made of glucose and fructose which gives 4 calories per gram. Hence adding other types of sweeteners that provide fewer calories is preferred.
GRAS substances- This consists of two types
- Non-Nutritive sweeteners
These provide negligible calories. They are also known as high-intensity sweeteners as they are required in minute quantities to provide the same sweetness as sugar.
Non-nutritive artificial sweeteners are Saccharin, Aspartame, Sucralose, Acesulfame-k, Stevioside, Cyclamate, Neotame, Alitame and the newer ones like rare sugars.
- Saccharin is a Sulfonamide produced from coal tar.
- It has a bitter, metallic aftertaste. It is unstable at high temperatures.
- It may cause urticaria and eczema in some people. Intake of saccharin is restricted in pregnant women.
- Though it was linked with bladder cancer earlier and banned. Ban is removed later as this link was not proved in any of the research studies.
- Methyl ester of the dipeptide of the amino acids like aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
- Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener used to sweeten a variety of foods and beverages.
- It is used in gum, breakfast cereal, and other dry products.
- Although some studies concluded carcinogenicity of aspartame, results from recent researches studies have been found to be safe.
It is a general-purpose sweetener. Generally, there is no known toxicity of this. Acesulfame—k is heat stable, so it can be used in cooking and baking. It may have a bitter after taste when used alone to sweeten food or beverage
- Sucralose is a derivative of sucrose. Sucralose is 450–650 times sweeter than sucrose.
- It is heat stable and has a wide range of applications in the food and beverage industry.
- It is considered very safe for human consumption.
- Cyclamate is a salt of cyclohexylsulfamic acid.
- Cyclamate is 30 times sweeter than normal sucrose.
- It is metabolized by the gut bacteria to cyclohexylamine which shows greater toxicity.
- Still, the research continues in this aspect but is inconclusive.
- It is a derivative of a dipeptide compound of aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
- It is 7000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar.
- Alitame is an intense sweetener which is 200 times greater than that of sucrose.
- It is a dipeptide of l-aspartic acid and d-alanine.
- It has no known side effects.
- These provide lesser calories than sucrose and generally considered as safe. Most of them occur naturally.
Fructose, maltose, lactose, honey, polyols like sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, isomalt, maltodextrin, polydextrose, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, and Rare sugars are all examples of nutritive sweeteners.
Mechanism of action:
Most of these are slowly metabolized in the body hence causes a very slow increase in blood sugar levels. Most of these undergo an insulin-independent pathway for metabolism hence it is beneficial in the case of diabetic patients with insulin resistance.
Though they do not cause any major side effects. Rarely diarrhea like symptoms can occur due to a laxative effect. Sweeteners like glycyrrhizin can cause water retention and headache. Cautious use of fructose and lactose in patients with lactose and fructose intolerance patients is warranted.
Newer natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners:
Though most of the natural occurring sweeteners are nutritive some newer non-nutritive options have also come up.
- Rare sugars are monosaccharides and their derivatives are very rare in nature.
- They do not produce any calories and not metabolized in the body.
- It does not give after taste.
- It cannot be produced in large quantities.
d-allose, tagatose, and d-psicose are all examples of monosaccharide rare sugars which are natural alternatives.
Use of Artifical sweeteners:
- Fructose and other non-nutritive sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-K, stevioside are used as tabletop sweeteners.
- Sucralose, sorbitol, acesulfame-K are used in baked products as they are stable at high temperatures.
- Confections, candy, chewing gum, and lozenges contain polyols like sorbitol, xylitol.
- Artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame are used in cold beverages, as they are not stable at very high temperatures.
- Sorbitol, sucralose, and saccharin are used in Diabetic food.
- Polyols and fructo-fibers are used as bulking agents or diluents with many sweeteners.
- The cosmetic industry uses saccharin in various flavored cosmetic products.
- The pharmaceutical industry uses artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sorbitol, and sucralose in a variety of medicines.
- Hygiene products such as toothpaste, mouthwashes contain polyols and sucralose as sweeteners.