Sweeteners provide a solution to reduce calorie content in food and drinks. In fact, they add few or no calories and allow decreasing the quantity of sugar used in recipes. Products containing these sugar substitutes can be useful for people with diabetes but also for individuals looking to manage their oral health or their weight.Bulk sweeteners (polyols) must be distinguished from low calorie sweeteners.
Polyols are sugar-free sweeteners. They are also called ‘sugar alcohols’ because their chemical structure resembles partly sugar and partly alcohol but they have nothing to do neither with sugar or alcohol. Polyols are a particular type of carbohydrate. Some of them are found naturally in various fruits and vegetables.
Polyols may be used either as sweeteners, or for so-called ‘technological’ (i.e. non-sweetening) functions in food. They may be used as bulking agents, emulsifiers, stabilisers, humectants, thickeners and texturisers.
Polyols can be used to replace all the functions associated with sucrose whilst having a lower gram-for-gram calorific value than sugar. They are commonly used for bulk sweetening because, unlike intense sweeteners, they can be used to replace sugar at 1:1 ratio. They are significantly less conducive to the formation of cavities in teeth than sugar and are reduced in calories (2,4 kcal/g except for erythritol (0 kcal/g)).
The most widely used polyols are Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Isomalt, Lactitol, Xylitol and Erythritol.
Low calorie sweeteners are sweet-tasting ingredients that contain virtually no calories and can be used to replace sugar in foods and drinks. All low calorie sweeteners have a much higher sweetening power than sugar, which means that only small amounts are needed to provide the same taste intensity. Low calorie sweeteners thereby provide sweet taste whilst eliminating or substantially reducing the calories in a food or drink.
Low calorie sweeteners are used in a variety of food and drink products including: soft drinks, chewing gum, confectionery, frozen desserts, yoghurts, dessert mixes and puddings. They are also widely used in healthcare, making many medicines more palatable. Low calorie sweeteners are clearly labelled on the packaging of food, healthcare and drink products that contain them.
They can play an important role when used in place of sugar and as part of a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, as they can help reduce overall caloric intake while enabling us to keep the pleasure of sweet taste in foods and drinks. Low calorie sweeteners, if used consistently to reduce calories, can act as an aid to weight control.
In terms of oral health, low calorie sweeteners are not fermentable and do not contribute to tooth decay. EFSA further concluded in a Scientific Opinion in 2011 that low calorie sweeteners “maintain tooth mineralisation by decreasing tooth demineralisation if consumed instead of sugars”.
Furthermore, as they have no impact on insulin and blood glucose levels, low calorie sweeteners can be a safe and useful alternative to sugar for people with diabetes while providing the pleasure of sweet taste. Equally, as low calorie sweeteners do not provide calories, they can also have a role in helping manage calorie intake for people with type II diabetes. EFSA further concluded in a Scientific Opinion in 2011 that: “Consumption of foods containing low calorie sweeteners instead of sugar induces a lower blood glucose rise after their consumption compared to sugar-containing foods”.
From a wider public health perspective, low calorie sweeteners are a helpful option in food and drink reformulation to reduce the amount of sugar and calories they contain, in support of addressing the global challenge of obesity and of non-communicable diseases including diabetes and dental diseases.