By now we all have an idea that added sugars are negatively related to health. Also the sugars in juices and smoothies. But few of us are willing to give up the sweet taste of soft drinks, cookies, pastries, yogurts or jams. The industry knows this and that is why, more and more, it uses sweeteners. Sweeteners is a booming business. Its consumption has increased in recent years and its presence in products as well.
How can we know if a product contains sweeteners?
We can find the sweeteners in the list of ingredients. They can be of two types: intensive or polyalcohols. The former are much sweeter than sugar (much greater sweetening power) and do not add energy to the product.
polyolsOn the contrary, they do provide energy, although less than sugar, and they also have a lower sweetening power. We can find these among the first ingredients of the product, while the intensive ones are usually in the queue.
Initially, sweeteners were used differentially. Polyalcohols in products where sugar has a structural role, such as pastries, cookies, chocolate or nougat without added sugar. Intensive sweeteners were exclusively in beverages. However, for a few years both have been used in more and more foods. So we can find chocolates and pastries with both types of sweeteners. The drinks continue to have only intensives.
Are there differences between products with sugar and those with sweeteners?
Our research group has recently published an article in which we compare the nutritional composition of products with sweeteners and their originals with added sugars. As expected, the amount of sugar decreases a lot in products with sweeteners. So does energy, although in variable proportion.
Total replacement of added sugars by sweeteners in fruit/juice drinks results in a large reduction in energy. When this happens in soft drinks, the energy becomes zero.
However, when polyols substitute for sugar, the reduction in energy is much less because these do provide calories. In addition, a large amount must be added to achieve the same sweetening power as the product with sugar.
Some of our results were surprising. We found that cookies with sweeteners have more fiber than those with sugar. However, the fat does not decrease and neither does the amount of salt. The energy is barely reduced by 8%, nothing significant from a nutritional point of view.
As for the yogurts, those with sweeteners have less fat and less saturated fat, mainly due to the use of skim milk. In addition, they have a significant reduction in energy.
Therefore, it seems that the replacement of sugar by sweeteners is accompanied by a reformulation of some products. However, we must bear in mind that the improvement does not make these products healthy. Cookies will continue to be discouraged due to their high caloric density and fat content. Neither do yogurts, precisely because of the presence of these sweeteners.
Sweeteners and health
Usually, consumers have a negative perception of sweetenersespecially the intensive ones. This is not surprising, since the health effects of sweeteners are still a controversial topic. The consumption of intensive sweeteners has been linked to hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Also with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and changes in the intestinal microbiota. Even its effects on body weight are contradictory.
In fact, some international public institutions do not recommend the use of sweeteners. This is the case of the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization and even the United States Department of Agriculture. In addition, in some countries, drinks with sweeteners have a dissuasive tax, just like sugary ones.
If consumers have a negative idea of sweeteners, Why is its use still on the rise? There are several explanations for this apparent paradox.
One is because the presence of sweeteners is not announced in large letters, but in small letters, next to the name of the product (it is mandatory). Thus, go unnoticed easily.
Another reason is that an important part of the products with added sugars also contain sweeteners. This breaks consumer schemes, accustomed to the presence of one or the other, but not both at the same time. In fact, the ‘original’ sugar versions of many soft drinks also contain sweeteners. In this way, even those who choose to take added sugars are also taking sweeteners without being aware of it.
There is a third reason. Products with sweeteners are often advertised as ‘no added sugar’, ‘light’ or ‘zero’. These claims, called nutrition claims, work very well because the consumer perceives that the product is healthier than it really is. In fact, products with sweeteners use more nutritional and health claims than the rest.
In conclusion, added sugars or sweeteners are not recommended. In addition, we must banish the idea that products with sweeteners provide less energy, because it depends on the type of food.
The best option to take care of our health is accustom our palate to foods with less sweetness progressively.
Ana Belen Ropero Lara Professor of Nutrition and Bromatology – Director of the BADALI project, Nutrition website. Bioengineering Institute, Miguel Hernández University
Fernando Borras Rocher Professor of Biostatistics Faculty of Medicine, Miguel Hernández University
Marta Beltra Garcia-Calvo Professor of Nutrition and Bromatology. Collaborator of the BADALI project, Nutrition website. Bioengineering Institute, Miguel Hernández University
This article has been facilitated by The Conversation
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