Thursday, May 27, 2010

Excerpts from an iterview with me about natural sweeteners

A whole leaf, full spectrum extraction of stevia preserves the many phytonutrients naturally present in the plant. One study reported over 100 natural stevia phytonutrients; the majority being polyphenols and other plant antioxidants. By contrast, there are about 9 steviosides. But the new “Reb A” fraction products being sold as food sweeteners (PureVia™, Truvia™) represent only a single chemical isolated from the stevia plant, though these two sweeteners are actually sold with added sugar alcohol (Erythritol, see below) and “natural flavors”.

Some artificial sweeteners cannot be used in cooking; for example, aspartame. By contrast, natural sweeteners typically do not lose their sweetness when cooked. And studies have indicated that artificial sweeteners may backfire by shutting down the satiety signals that tell us when we’re full…in those studies the groups fed artificial sweeteners ate up to 3 times the calories as control groups.

Sugar alcohols don’t raise blood sugar as rapidly as sugar does, yet they’re as bulky as sugar so they can be used “spoon - for - spoon” to replace sugar. But their level of sweetness may vary, with xylitol being the closest to sugar. Sugar alcohols have a range of sweetness and absorption; the amount that is absorbed from the GI tract affects the possibility of it being somewhat laxative at high levels, which can vary from person to person. Sorbitol may be laxative at moderate levels of 10 grams or more, mannitol at over 20 grams; xylitol at over 30 grams. Erythritol is virtually free of a laxative side affect even at higher levels, but is expensive. Also, sugar alcohols tend to have a cooling effect in the mouth and actually taste better when combined with a different type of sweetener.

Sugar alcohols also boast an FDA-approved health claim: “Frequent between-meal consumption of foods high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay. The sugar alcohols in [name of food] do not promote tooth decay.”

I think that organic maple syrup, agave and xylitol are doing quite well as natural sweeteners, with erythritol a more recent option that is catching up. The recent crossover of a certain isolated fraction of stevia (Reb A) as a mass market sweetener has some drawbacks: it doesn’t taste like whole leaf extract, and is combined with both erythritol and natural flavors. And there are certified organic full spectrum extractions without the typical bitter aftertaste or added flavoring agents.

Many stevia products are still only legal to sell as herbal dietary supplements, not as sweeteners. Some companies may think that all stevia products are now approved for use in foods, but that is not true. Retailers should take their cues from the packaging, and only carry reputable brands that strictly follow labeling laws. It is primarily the isolated “Reb A” fraction of stevia that can be used in foods. Most other stevias have not been approved for food use, with some exceptions.

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