What is sugar?
Sugar is the generic name for a class of easily metabolized carbohydrates. There are different types of sugars. The most commonly known are:
- Sucrose (also called saccharose), the common household 'sugar', obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet.
- Lactose (milk sugar), contained in milk
- Maltose (malt sugar), contained in malted starch
- Fructose (fruit sugar), contained in fruits
- Glucose (also called dextrose), contained in grapes
Sugar cane is one of the oldest cultivated crops known to man. As far back as prehistoric times it was refined in eastern Asia.
Cane sugar was unknown in Europe until the Middle Ages and for a long time it was available only to the upper classes. Not until the much more affordable beet sugar was discovered in the 18th century was there any widespread use of sugar in Europe.
As sugar consumption increased, so too did the number of diseases that are related to excessive sugar consumption, the most important of which include caries and obesity and diseases associeted with overweight such as diabetes and cardiovasular diseases.
What are intense sweeteners?
The following intense sweeteners currently are approved in the EU:
- Acesulfame-K (E 950)
- Aspartame (E 951)
- Cyclamate (E 952)
- Saccharin (E 954)
- Neohesperidine DC (E 959)
- Thaumatin (E 957)
Only Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin and Cyclamate are commonly used in table-top sweeteners.
Intense sweeteners are organic compounds that are not carbohydrates. They have a much greater sweetening strength than sugar, and yet have either an extremely low energy value (calorie count) or none at all.
Saccharin, Cyclamate and Acesulfame-K are organic compounds that taste sweet but contain no calories. Saccharin is about 450 times sweeter than the comparable amount of sugar, Cyclamate roughly 35 times and Acesulfame-K around 200 times. These sweeteners are excreted from the body essentially unchanged and unused.
Aspartame consists of a combination of two amino acids, L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine, and is digested and broken down by the body in the same way as any protein. One gram of Aspartame contains 4 calories. However, since Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than the comparable amount of sugar, these calories are negligible. Thus Aspartame is virtually calorie free.
Which name belongs to which category?
As a consumer it is not easy to differentiate between the various types of sweetening agents on the market today. In particular, consumers often confuse sweeteners and sugar substitutes, although they are very different. But those who take a close look at the list of ingredients gradually get to know what is behind each name.
|Sugar and type of sugar||Sugar substitutes
(polyols, bulk sweeteners)
|Sucrose (from cane sugar)
|Sucrose (from beet sugar)||Maltitol||Aspartame|
|Lactose (from milk)||Mannitol||Cyclamate|
|Maltose (from malting, malted starch)||Sorbitol||Saccharin|
|Fructose (from fruit)||Xylitol||Neohesperidine|
|Glucose / dextrose (from grapes)||Isomalt||Thaumatin|
Features and differences
- Sweeteners are calorie free or low in calorie - sugar substitutes are not:
The most important difference between sugar substitutes (polyols) and sweeteners is that intense sweeteners have virtually no calories or are calorie free, whereas polyols have 2.4 kilocalorie per gram.
- Sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar substitutes (polyols):
Most polyols are about half as sweet as 'ordinary' sugar. In contrast, sweeteners have a far greater sweetening strength, some up to 450 times that of sugar.
- Sweeteners and sugar substitutes - both are good for your teeth:
Neither sweeteners nor sugar substitutes attack the teeth because the acid-forming bacteria in the mouth do not 'accept' them as a source of nutrients. 'Tooth-friendly' sweetening products allow you to enjoy sweetness while looking after your teeth at the same time. In view of the laxative effect of sugar substitutes, however, they should not be consumed to excess.