Luckily for those looking to cut sugar and improve overall health, there are a surplus of alternative sweeteners on the market that are just as tasty as your favourite sweets. In fact, there are so many sweeteners out there, both artificial and natural, that it can be confusing to keep them all straight. However, understanding the different sweeteners, their uses, and their advantages and disadvantages is important for consumers and confectionery retailers alike. Moreover, the diversity of sweeteners makes it easy to find ones that suit your needs.
A new way to sweeten sugar-free products is to add artificial sweeteners. When taken in large quantities, these sweeteners can have adverse side effects like stomach pains, increased flatulence, or a laxative effect. Stevia is the latest sugar alternative and has the least side effects. Here is a list of the most commonly used sweeteners:
Polyols or Polyalcohols (Sugar Alcohols) Sweeteners
Xylitol is a nutritive sweetener that has a minimal effect on glucose levels and is lower in calories than conventional sugar. It is odourless and has a sweet taste. It is used in chocolate, biscuits, and boiled confectionery. Xylitol is actively beneficial for dental health. However, in large quantities, Xylitol can cause laxative effects and flatulence. This polyol occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, does not have an unpleasant aftertaste, and reduces plaque formation by inhibiting the growth of streptococcus mutans, a bacterium associated with dental cavities. Xylitol is found in chewing gum, mints, caramel candies and lollipops, among other sweets, according to xylitol.org.
Maltitol, another nutritive sweetener, is well known for its similarities to sugar. It is used in hard candies, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods, and ice cream. It is about 70-90% as sweet as sugar. However, it has less calories, does not cause tooth decay, and has a lesser effect on glucose levels. Maltitol can have a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities.
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Sorbitol is a nutritive sugar alcohol often made from corn syrup and used in sugar-free ice cream, mints, cough syrups, and chewing gum.
It is found in numerous sweets and has been “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This polyol protects against loss of moisture and is used in baked goods and chocolates because these products can become dry or harden.
Although it occurs naturally in many fruits, it is usually produced synthetically for use in confectionery. Sorbitol is known to have a laxative effect. However, as it has less than two thirds of the calories of sugar, it can be used for weight management.
Isomalt boasts only half the calories of sugar and is often used in pastries, biscuits, hard candies, toffee, chewing gum, throat lozenges and cakes because of its workability and stability.
Isomalt products have the same appearance and texture as those made with regular sugar.
It has minimal impact on glucose levels—making it useful for some types of diabetics—and it does not advance tooth decay. Isomalt can cause gastric distress because the body treats it as a fibre rather than a simple carbohydrate.
Lactitol, much like Isomalt, can replace sucrose in a one-to-one ratio. This polyol has 40% of sucrose’s sweetness and can be combined with many other sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. It extends the shelf life of cookies and chewing gum because it does not absorb moisture. Lactitol is useful in chocolates because it has a low cooling effect.
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Natural and Artificial Sweeteners
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used commonly as a sugar substitute in many sugar-free, reduced sugar, and low calorie foods. It has no calories, does not effect glucose levels and does not promote tooth decay. As Aspartame does not retain its sweetness when heated, it is not used in baked goods or cookies. It also may cause headaches or dizziness in people with a sensitivity to the substance.
It is a notorious artificial sweetener, allegedly causing cancer and other diseases. The panel at the University of Toronto and a paper published in the Critical Reviews in Toxology both concluded that Aspartame is safe for consumption in a regular balanced diet, according to aspartame.org.
Sucralose, commonly known by its brand name, Splenda, is actually 600 times sweeter than sugar! It is an artificial sweetener. It has zero calories, is suitable for baking and does not cause tooth decay. Currently, it is one of the most prevalent sugar substitutes on the market. Some people argue that it has an artificial taste, especially when baked.
Like polyols, these artificial sweeteners do not contribute to oral decay, have almost nonexistent calorie counts, and have been thoroughly tested before distribution in food and sweets. There are no known side effects, no effect on the metabolism of carbohydrates and are not toxic.
Lactose is the carbohydrate that is found in milk. It is a natural sweetener. Lactose is not often used to replace sugar, as it does not have the same sweetness. However, it is often used in baked goods as a filler because it does not change the flavour of the food.
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Stevia extract is the newest, and perhaps most exciting addition to the list of sweeteners. It is a natural sweetener. It is made from the Stevia plant, which is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years as a sweet herb. The benefits of Stevia are plentiful: it is non-caloric, derived naturally, rich in fibres, better for diabetics, and sweet and tasty. It also does not produce the laxative effect that many other sweeteners do. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way!
It contains less than 10% polyols, and does not have a laxative effect like Maltitol. Stevia is typically used as a sweetener in foods and is labelled “Generally recognized as safe” by the United States FDA.
Stevia extract is a wonderful alternative to sugar. As we know, sugar can be an unwelcome additive in our food. As Stevia has no calories or carbohydrates, it is a healthier alternative.
Advantages of Stevia: a natural extract, no sugar added, less than 10% polyols – no laxative effect, lower in calories than conventional chocolate, better for diabetics, rich in fibres, excellent taste.
Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar in fruit, vegetables and honey. It is a natural sweetener. It has just as many calories as table sugar and produces the same effect on glucose levels. However, fructose as fruit should be eaten regularly. Fructose can be found in sweets that contain fruit or fruit juice, and may be labelled “no added sugar.” Fructose is sweeter than sugar and is used in nutritional bars, cookies, and other sweets. A lot of press was generated about the dangers of fructose in corn syrup: however, these allegations are untrue when consumed in moderate and controlled amounts as part of a balanced diet.
Since these sweeteners are so commonly used in confectionery products and have very minimal disadvantages, any retailer wishing to promote weight loss and health should consider stocking sugar-free, no added sugar, or reduced sugar products. After all, this is a large market with potential for huge growth in the near future, as nearly 66% of adults in the UK struggle with weight management, according to the Department of Health. Be on the look out for an increase in sweets containing Stevia, as consumers in the UK and the US are discovering its benefits.
Maltitol and Stevia are the preferred sweeteners. Most of our products are sweetened with Maltitol or Stevia.
If you are looking to reduce your caloric intake or control it, look no further. By using these type of products, you can replace your naturally occurring sugar intake with a healthier alternative because some products contain low calories, have a low glycemic index (useful for diabetics), and generally have little to no side effects in moderate quantities. Do not expect these products to work if you consume more than the recommended amount, however. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages for health-conscious consumers, so take a look at sugar-free sweets next time you are shopping.