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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sweeteners/FDA/Article from 1991

(Written 14 years ago, this article from FDA Magazine contains statements we vehemently disagree on, such as the one about the safety of Aspartame, in FDA's opinion. But it shows where the government agency was in its thinking twelve years ago, so I thought it might be interesting to readers now. It's a telling insight into how the FDA sees all sweeteners as broken down here. Stoddard.)

Not only Sugar is Sweet
By Alexandra Greeley

Plain table sugar and its numerous
taste-alikes may be one of our most popular food commodities.
People come by their love for sweetness naturally. According to
the experts, humans are born generally preferring sweet over
bitter or sour tastes.

Sweeteners make many foods taste
better. And natural sugars have a host of other valuable
culinary and practical uses, including adding bulk to baked
goods, helping foods to brown, and facilitating fermentation.
But despite their immense popularity, sweeteners, particularly
table sugar, have generated their share of sour publicity
because of health concerns.

Traditionally for
most consumers the generic term ?sugar? means simply the white
sugar crystals, or table sugar, that are stirred into or
sprinkled on foods.

These familiar crystals are technically
known as sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide--that is, it's
composed of two simple sugar units, in this case, glucose and
fructose. White sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets that
have undergone a rigorous refining process. White sugar crystals
can be used as is, compressed into cubes, or further pulverized
to superfine, then to confectioner's, or powdered, sugar. Brown
sugar results from mixing white sugar crystals with molasses.
Other forms of sucrose are beet sugar, maple sugar, turbinado
sugar, and raw sugar.

Sucrose, however, is only one of a
subgroup of sugars (see accompanying chart), and all sugars are
carbohydrates. Monosaccharides, or single sugar units, include
glucose, fructose and galactose. Monosaccharides also are the
digestive end product of polysaccharides, the complex
carbohydrates (starches) in fruits, grains and vegetables. Other
disaccharides besides sucrose include lactose (glucose and
galactose), also called milk sugar, and maltose (two units of
glucose), also called malt sugar.

For labeling use and for
making comparative claims, the Food and Drug Administration
defines sugars as all mono-, di-, tri-, and tetrasaccharides and
their derivatives, such as sugar alcohol, says Youngme Park,
Ph.D., a nutritionist with FDA's Center for Food Safety and
Applied Nutrition. He says this includes all carbohydrate
sweeteners with the same functional and physiological effect
that can be used interchangeably in the food supply.

After complex carbohydrates are broken down to simple sugars (most
sugars and carbohydrates are eventually broken down to glucose),
the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream and go to the
liver. There they may be stored as glycogen or used immediately
as glucose for energy by the body or brain.

"The body uses glucose as its simplest form of energy," says Judith Wurtman,
Ph.D., research scientist in the Department of Brain and
Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"So for people who need calories, that is, those who are
recovering from an operation or who are shipwrecked, sugar can
keep them alive."

Thomas Jukes, Ph.D., professor of biophysics at the University of California at Berkeley, tells of
his experiments feeding laboratory rats protein, vitamins,
minerals, and sugar as the sole source of carbohydrates. The
rats thrived, he says. "Fish is not a brain food," concludes
Jukes. "Glucose is."

Sucrose occurs naturally in most green
plants, says Sarah Setton, vice president for public affairs,
The Sugar Association, Washington, D.C. It is produced by
photosynthesis, which is the use of the sun's energy in the
formation of food by plants. People would have to stop eating
fruits and vegetables and any products incorporating them to cut
sugar out of their diet. People seem to think that there is a
difference between sugar in an apple and sugar in the sugar
bowl," she adds. "But the way the body uses sugar is all the
same. The body can't tell where the sugar is from."

Americans have become conspicuous consumers of sugar
and sweet-tasting foods and beverages. We have developed a
relentless sweet tooth, "a severe addiction to sweetness," says
Joan Gussow, Ed.D., professor of nutrition and education at
Columbia Teachers College, Columbia University in New York

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data on the
amount of caloric sweeteners used in food, there has been an
increase of more than 16 percent on a per person basis over the
past two decades, and more than half of the increase has
occurred in the past five years. Caloric sweeteners include
sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, pure honey, and edible

Paul Lachance, chairman of the department of food
science at Rutgers University in New Jersey states it another
way. He estimates that, based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, the
average American consumes about 300 calories from sugars added
to food. That comes to nearly 14 teaspoons of table sugar a

Gussow has her own theory about why sugar is so
prominent in the American diet. It's for taste, she says. "I
grow my own vegetables and fruit. And when I pick, cook and eat
my parsnips, for example, they are as sweet as sugar," she says.
"But food is shipped all over the place, and when food gets too
old, much of the sugar turns to starch. The natural sweetness is
gone, and people sugar food to give it flavor."

As yet, no scientist has established any limits for sugar consumption. In
the typical American diet today (composed of about 45 percent
carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 30 to 35 percent fat) all
added and naturally occurring sugars account for about 21
percent of the total daily caloric intake. A 1986 FDA report
estimated that sugars added to food accounted for 11 percent of
calories consumed.

Yet if people eat increasingly larger quantities of caloric (nutritive) sweeteners in general, these
could compete with and crowd out other nutrients, warns Jane
Hurley, associate nutritionist at the Center for Science in the
Public Interest, Washington, D.C. People may consume many of
their calories each day from a sugary soft drink or candy bar.
"Those foods have few important nutrients we need," she says.
"People are better off having an apple as a snack than a candy

Over the last several decades, sugar
has taken on the villain's role in the American diet. General
sugar-bashing has led to "sugarphobia" as Jukes calls it and the
unfounded fear that eating refined sugar causes many health
problems, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, fatigue,
depression, hyperactivity, and even criminal behavior.

in fact, added sugar at current levels is not detrimental to
health. According to the landmark 1986 FDA Report of Sugars Task
Force, sugar, when consumed normal or moderate quantities,
cannot be linked to any disease, nor does it create a

Walter Glinsmann, M.D., FDA's associate director
for clinical nutrition and senior author of the task force
report, explains that members of the task force estimated the
intake figures and trends of both added and naturally occurring
sugars, based on USDA data. They also reviewed the scientific
literature dealing with possible harmful effects of sugar
consumption on numerous conditions, including tooth decay,
glucose tolerance, diabetes mellitus, lipidemias (high blood
fat), cardiovascular diseases, obesity, gallstones, and cancer.
"Based on that work," says Glinsmann, "we decided that sugars
are safe as they are now used in the food supply." If there is a
significant change in the way Americans consume sugars, he adds,
then scientists must reevaluate their role.

As Glinsmann observes, FDA does not say that eating unlimited amounts of
sugars is safe. "There are not good or bad foods, only good or
bad diets," he says. "If half your diet is pure sugar, that is
not healthy. ... In a normal, varied diet, there are no adverse
effects of sugar itself."

The task force did find that sugar can cause dental cavities, he says, but adds that so can other
fermentable carbohydrates, such as dried fruit and honey, under
the right conditions.

Despite the report, some consumers persist in linking sugar consumption with assorted ills, such as
hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in children. This is often
reported by parents who say that their children are
uncontrollable after eating candy and other sugary

Glinsmann points out that sugar has not been shown to
be a factor in hyperactivity. Studies of children and
adolescents at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda,
Md., and elsewhere have looked at groups of individuals served
sugar or a placebo (an inactive substance given as a control
when testing another substance). Glinsmann points out that no
researcher has found that sugar has had any discernible negative
effect on children's behavior. To the contrary, sugar often has
a soothing effect.

It also calms adults, says Wurtman, who
has studied the relationship between carbohydrate consumption
and mood. When people report having a sugar high or jitters,
Wurtman asks them what was happening before they took a mouthful
of something sweet. "When people feel the need to eat," she
says, "They usually are jittery. But 20 minutes after eating,
they are no longer jittery." In fact, the opposite happens:
After eating sugar, people become calm or even sleepy, she says,
an effect caused by sugar raising the level of a calming brain
chemical called serotonin. Sugar in its pure form is the best
nonprescription antidepressant, she says.

Numerous nutritive and nonnutritive substitutes for
sucrose vie for its place as a sweetener. All nutritive
substitutes - such as honey, concentrated fruit juices, dextrose
(also known as glucose), maple and corn syrups, fructose
(levulose or fruit sugar), sugar alcohols, and high-fructose
corn syrup contain and contribute calories.

Perhaps the most
commonly used nutritive sweetener is high-fructose corn syrup, a
sweet product manufactured from cornstarch and containing a high
level of fructose, explains Kyd Brenner, director of public
affairs for the Corn Refiners Association in Washington, D.C.
High-fructose corn syrup is very close to the composition and
calorie content of cane sugar, he says, and the syrup can be
used as a direct and inexpensive substitute for cane sugar when
liquid sweeteners are called for. It is used extensively in soft
drinks, condiments, jams, jellies, and wine and is not available
for home use.

Of the sugar alcohols, sorbitol (60 percent as
sweet as sucrose with about the same number of calories per
gram) is used in such products as hard and soft candies and
chewing gums. Xylitol, another sugar alcohol, has limited FDA
approval for special dietary uses. A third sugar alcohol,
mannitol, has been removed from the GRAS (generally recognized
as safe) list, and is regulated as an 'interim' food additive.
This means that its current use is considered safe, but some
questions have been raised that must be resolved to fully
determine what limitations, if any, should be imposed. Mannitol
is still being used in some products.

Both mannitol and
sorbitol, when taken in large amounts, can cause diarrhea.
Products whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in
a daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol or 20 grams mannitol
must bear the labeling statement: "Excess consumption may have a
laxative effect."

The sugar polymer polydextrose, because of
its bulking properties, is used to replace a number of the
technical effects of sucrose in various baked goods, salad
dressings, frozen desserts, and candies. Because of its
structure, polydextrose is not readily digested, so it is a
low-calorie sucrose substitute. But it does not provide
sweetness, so it is likely to be used with a nonnutritive
sweetener. FDA is presently considering petitions for its use in
other products such as in fruit and peanut butter spreads, sweet
sauces, toppings, and syrups, and as a formulation aid in film
coatings in vitamin and mineral supplement

Nonnutritive, or
high-intensity, sweeteners satisfy America's sweet tooth without
adding calories. Presently, manufacturers are using three such
sweeteners to replace sugar in a variety of food and nonfood
items such as mouthwashes and pill coatings.

One of these is
saccharin, 300 times sweeter than table sugar and with zero
calories. It is sold in liquid, tablets, packets, and in bulk.
Saccharin has had a stormy past, with studies in the United
States and Canada implicating it in the development of certain
cancers. In the late 1970s, FDA contracted with the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study cancer-causing agents and
toxic substances in foods, including saccharin. NAS reports
showed that saccharin is a potential cancer-causing agent in
humans. A congressional moratorium protecting saccharin's
continued use has been renewed periodically by Congress. The
required label warning on saccharin states, "Use of this product
may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin
which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory

(We vigorously disagree with the FDA assessment of the safety of 
Aspartame. However, it still was not approved for baking at the time of 
this article.- Stoddard)

Aspartame - about 200 times sweeter than table
sugar and with the same number of calories per teaspoonful has
been shown to be safe. However, some people have reported that
they are sensitive to it, although such a sensitivity has not
been confirmed by scientific studies. Certain individuals
suffering from a rare genetic disease called phenylketonuria
cannot tolerate the amino acid phenylalanine, one of the
building blocks of aspartame as well as naturally occurring
proteins. Therefore, products containing aspartame must bear on
the label a statement that they contain phenylalanine. Aspartame
is available in packets and is used in numerous foods, including
cereals, beverage bases, and ready-to-drink iced tea, but
because it is not generally heat stable, it is not used for
Food technologists have been working on ways to
overcome this instability.

Acesulfame K (K is the chemical
symbol for potassium)-130 times sweeter than table sugar?was
approved by FDA in July 1988 as a sugar substitute in packets or
tablets and as an ingredient in such products as chewing gum,
dry drink mixes, and gelatins. The body does not metabolize
acesulfame K so it contributes no calories. Soluble in water, it
is stable at normal temperatures and does not break down during

FDA banned the use of the sweetener cyclamate in
1970 because of concerns over its safety, but cyclamate is again
under consideration for use in specific products, such as
tabletop sweeteners and nonalcoholic beverages.

Scientists continue to develop new sugar
substitutes. For example, among the nutritive sweeteners,
petitions for the use of the sugar alcohols isomalt (in
gelatins, hard and soft candies, and baked goods), maltitol (in
candy and cough drops), lactitol (in candy, chewing gum, baked
goods, and frozen dairy desserts), and hydrogenated starch
hydrolisates (in candy, chewing gum, and confections) are under
current FDA review, says Art Lipman, Ph.D., a supervisory
consumer safety officer with FDA's direct additives

FDA has also received numerous inquiries about the
regulatory status of a naturally occurring high-intensity
sweetener known as stevia (or stevioside), says Lipman.
Extracted from a plant grown in South America, stevia is 300
times sweeter than table sugar and is used for sweetening in
Japan and other countries. Lipman says no petition has been
filed for its use in the United States.

Two nonnutritive
sweeteners are being studied, says George Pauli, Ph.D., chief of
the novel ingredients and policy development branch. These are
alitame (Pfizer), which is chemically similar to aspartame, and
sucralose (McNeil Specialty Products Co.), a chlorinated sucrose
that has been made indigestible. FDA is also considering
petitions for additional uses of the sweetener acesulfame K in
beverages and baked goods and of aspartame for bulk use and in
breakfast cereals, malt beverages, candies, and cooked

Eating foods sweetened with nonnutritive sweeteners
rather than sugar is an individual choice, says Laura Tarantino,
an FDA consumer safety officer. Our law says only that we [FDA]
need to assess the safety of a new food additive and its
technical effect," she says. "Nonnutritive sweeteners are safe
to use. But we don't tell people to replace sugar with
artificial sweeteners."

In the future, consumers wanting to
know which sweeteners are present in their foods need only read
the label. According to an FDA labeling proposal, all sweeteners
will be listed together in the ingredient list, under the
collective term 'sweetener,' when more than one sweetener is
used in a product (following the collective term, each sweetener
would be listed in parentheses in descending order of
predominance by weight of the sweetener in the food). According
to an FDA proposal published late in 1991, it would be mandatory
for all complex carbohydrates and simple sugars to be listed on
the nutrition label, says Lynn Larsen, Ph.D., director of the
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition's Executive
Operations Staff.

People may have an inherent preference for
sweetness, and that may have helped our ancestors survive, since
bitter-tasting plants are generally not fit to eat. But beyond
survival, people seem to have discovered that sweet flavors
really help make eating pleasurable.

Alexandra Greeley is a
freelance writer in Reston, Va.


Type of
Regulatory Status

Common Sugars:
Glucose (also called

Fructose (also called levulose)

none; cannot be directly added to

Common Sugars: Disaccharides
Sucrose (glucose +
white table sugar, beet sugar, turbinado sugar, raw

Lactose (glucose + galactose)
milk sugar
petition under consideration

Maltose (glucose +
malt sugar


limited FDA approval for
special uses

removed from GRAS; regulated as
"interim food additive"

Nonnutritive and High-Intensity

Acesulfame K


remains on market
through congressional moratorium

(FDA Disclaimer: The
statements in this article have not been evaluated by the FDA.
The products mentioned herein are not intended to diagnose,
treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For medical advice, always
consult your health care professional.) 

Shared by:
Mary Nash Stoddard, Founder
Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Pilot Hotline
[Promoting FDA Recall of Aspartame - since 1987]
phone: 1-214-387-4001