Know your sweetener

Published online: Dec 01, 2013
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There are currently five artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They may all have different names, but they are chemically manufactured molecules-molecules that do not exist in nature-unlike all-natural sugar.
There are many things every consumer should know about artificial sweeteners:
* Artificial sweeteners are so intensely sweet that dextrose or maltodextrin, or both, must be added to dilute their intense sweetness in order to imitate the sweetness of a sugar.
* Undiluted artificial sweeteners cannot be sold directly to consumers since only infinitesimally small amounts are required to mimic sugar's sweet taste.
* They may be used directly in commercially processed foods, or they may be mixed with one or more starch-based sweeteners before sale to consumers.
* FDA regulations permit any food product that fewer than five calories to be expressed as zero.
* Today many foods, even foods that do not claim to be sugar-free, now contain artificial sweeteners.
* All artificial sweeteners, when approved by the Food and Drug Administration, were approved with an acceptable daily intake. Consumers need to know what the daily intake limit is for every artificial sweetener.
* Emerging science has shown people that consume artificially sweetened products don't always lose weight. We've had chemical artificial sweeteners in the U.S. for over 30 years and we aren't any healthier. So if they aren't part of the solution, it should be considered they may be part of the problem. 
Which brings us to the original artificial sweetener: Saccharin.
Discovered more than 100 years ago, saccharin can be 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar! Its sweetness depends on how it is used-in the U.S., saccharin is approved as a special dietary sweetener, which limits its use to beverages and tabletop products. 
Saccharin is available commercially as "sodium saccharin" (most common), "calcium saccharin" or "acid saccharin."
Consumers often know saccharin as Sweet 'N Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet. But it's also found in many everyday items such as chewing gum, candy, yogurt and ice cream.
So how do consumers know what's in their foods? And do they care?
They sure do. According to a June 2013 Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the Sugar Association, approximately 85 percent of parents of children under the age of 18 believe that all-natural foods are better for you than those that contain artificial ingredients, and 86 percent stated that the type of sweetener used is at least somewhat important to them when deciding what foods and beverages to serve their kids.
Unfortunately, these same parents often find identifying these foods challenging, making them difficult to avoid. When asked which labels they used to help guide food purchases, only 45 percent said they looked at the ingredient statement, which is where they would be able to determine whether a food was made with natural vs. artificial ingredients and which type of sweetener was used.
Its one of the reasons that the Sugar Association has petitioned the FDA to follow Canada's lead and set food label guidance that clearly identifies which ingredients are artificial sweeteners and how much of each are found in a product.
Understanding the ingredients in your food is an important part of a healthy and balanced diet. Just remember-there's only one sugar. When consumed in moderation, sugar has been and continues to be part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.