Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame satisfy a sweet tooth without adding calories. No wonder artificial sweeteners can be found in everything from soft drinks and desserts to breakfast cereals and chewing gum. The truth is too much of a sweet thing is not a good thing.
Here’s a list of what’s been approved in Canada, how safe it really is and what you should bear in mind when reaching for that artificially sweetened snack.
Artificial Sweetener: Aspartame
What is it: Aspartame, a low-calorie artificial sweetener, has been available in Canada since 1981. Found in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum, it is made by the bonding together of the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine.
How safe is it: In Canada, food additives such as aspartame are subjected to rigorous controls under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. So far, there is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of foods containing this sweetener, according to the provisions of the Food and Drug Regulations and as part of a well-balanced diet, poses a health hazard.
How much is too much: For the general population, scientists at the Food Directorate of Health Canada established that 40 milligrams/kilogram of body weight per day was an acceptable daily intake.
Artificial Sweetener: Sugar Alcohols (Polyols) & Polydextrose
What is it: Sugar alcohols are a family of sweetening agents also known as “polyols”. These occur naturally in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, but for large-scale commercial use they are manufactured from common sugars. Polydextrose is a compound synthesized from dextrose (glucose) that adds texture to food without adding sweetness. While they are chemically very similar to sugars, they are less sweet and have fewer calories per gram.
How safe is it: Currently the following sugar alcohols are permitted for use as food additives in Canada: hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, mannitol, sorbitol, sorbitol syrup, xylitol and erythritol. Another food additive, polydextrose is also permitted and is most commonly used to provide bulk in foods, thereby reducing the caloric content. Unlike polyols, polydextrose is not sweet but has a slightly tart taste, adding texture to food without adding sweetness. It is often used as a replacement for sugar, starch and fat in foods such as cakes, candies, pudding, and desserts.
Health Canada scientists have studied the human health effects of these compounds and have concluded that the addition of sugar alcohols and/or polydextrose to foods is generally safe and that they are effective sweetening, texturizing and bulking agents.
How much is too much: Eating too much of these sugar alcohol substances can cause gastro-intestinal discomfort and laxative effects. That’s because sugar alcohols and polydextrose are often poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Of course, the more food you consume containing sugar alcohols and polydextrose, the more likely you are to feel such ill effects. What’s more, people with diabetes should also consult their physician about the usefulness of sugar alcohols in their diet before increasing the amount of foods they eat containing these substances.
Artificial Sweetener: Stevia
What is it: A shrub native to Paraguay and a member of the sunflower family, Stevia is a herb that is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
How safe is it: In North America, the safety, efficacy and acceptability of Stevia as an ingredient in natural health products or as a sweetener food additive are currently the subject of much debate. Evidence suggests that Stevia and its isolates may present a risk to pregnant women, children and those who have low blood pressure. As a result, the labels of Stevia-containing natural health products are required to carry warnings.
How much is too much: Currently, Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate accepts the addition of Stevia to natural health products as a sweetening agent provided that the Stevia content does not surpass the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) as specified below.
For isolates such as stevioside: Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 1 mg/kg/day, e.g. maximum 70 mg per day for an adult.
For Stevia leaf powder: a maximum of 280 mg per day for an adult.
How sweet it is!
|SWEETENER/ NAME OF COMPOUND||% RELATIVE SWEETNESS VS. SUGAR||CALORIE VALUE kcal/g|
|Erythritol||60 - 80||0.2|
|Isomalt||45 - 65||2|
|Lactitol||30 - 40||2|
|Mannitol||50 - 70||1.6|
|Sorbitol||50 - 70||2.6|
|Sorbitol Syrup||25 - 50||3|