Are All Sweeteners Created Equal?

by Christine Hronec

In the supplement industry, the first and foremost important criteria to retaining clients are product taste.  Even if your company developed a miracle product, the brand will not grow unless the product tastes great.  When determining the positioning and flavor profile of your products, there is a lot to keep in mind with the variety of sweeteners commonly used in the industry along with their pro’s and con’s. This ingredient comparison was created to demonstrate the various types of ingredients available for use in flavoring dietary supplements such as protein powders, amino acids, and a variety of sports nutrition products.

  • Fructose (fruit sugar)- A common sweetener also known as your standard table sugar in the common pantry.  Fructose is naturally found in many plants and is in the form of a crystalline, white, odorless powder with a very sweet taste.  Fructose is used in many commercial applications due to its low cost and high relative sweetness.  While this is a great tasting natural sweetener, the levels of this ingredient commonly used in consumer products are quite high and compromise the nutritional value by adding excessive amounts of carbohydrates and calories.
  • Acesulfame Potassium- This ingredient is a calorie free artificial sweetened also known as Ace-K.  At approximately 200 times the sweetness of table sugar, Ace-K is often mixed with other ingredients to mask the after-taste.  While this ingredient has been approved by the FDA, there are concerns regarding its safety and its potential carcinogenic effects.  These affects have been dismissed by the FDA and a great deal of the negative publicity has stemmed from animal studies where rodents were fed 3% Ace-K of their diet for 40 weeks developed tumors.  The publicity of this data has caused people to seek out products that do not contain this ingredient.
  • Sucralose- This non-nutritive artificial sweetener is commonly identified in the marketplace under the tradename Splenda™(sold by McNeil).  This ingredient is 600 times the sweetness of sugar and does not contain any calories, sugars, or carbohydrates making it an appealing ingredient.  The commercial success of this ingredient stems primarily from the great taste, stability, and safety compared to other low calorie sweeteners.
  • Stevia- The most recognized natural sweetener is derived from the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudianana.  This sweetener contains no carbohydrates or calories and is quite appealing as a low calorie natural ingredient.  However some of its extracts tend to have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste when used in high concentrations.  From a flavoring perspective, only relatively small amounts of stevia can be used in a food or beverage compared to conventional sweeteners.  The flavor profile achievable with this ingredient alone is not comparable to artificial sweeteners and a mixture with other natural sweeteners is typically required.

[1]    ^ Hyvonen, L., & Koivistoinen, P (1982). “Fructose in Food Systems”. In Birch, G.G. & Parker, K.J. Nutritive Sweeteners. London & New Jersey: Applied Science Publishers. pp. 133–144. ISBN 0-85334-997-5

[2]    ^ Wolfgang Wach “Fructose” in Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2004, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim.doi:10.1002/14356007.a12_047.pub2

[3]    ^“Toxicity studies of acesulfame potassium” (PDF). National institutes of health. Retrieved 2009-04-01.

[4]    ^ Public Health Service. “Toxicity Studies of Acesulfame Potassium”. Retrieved 30 March 2008.

[5]    Michael A. Friedman, Lead Deputy Commissioner for the FDA, Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Sucralose Federal Register: 21 CFR Part 172, Docket No. 87F-0086, April 3, 1998

[6]    ^ A Report on Sucralose from the Food Sanitation Council, The Japan Food Chemical Research Foundation

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