What types of sweeteners do we know?

Nutritional sweeteners

Sucrose, or table sugar, is the standard on which the relative sweetness of all other sweeteners is based. Because sucrose provides energy in the form of carbohydrates, it is considered a nutritional (bulk) sweetener. Other nutritional sweeteners include glucose, fructose, corn syrup, and sugar alcohols (eg, sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol).

Non-nutritive sweeteners

Efforts to chemically synthesize sweeteners began at the end of the 19th century with the discovery of saccharin. Since then, a number of synthetic compounds have been developed that contain few (or even no) calories but no nutrients . These sweeteners have a significantly greater sweetening power than sucrose and can therefore be used in relatively low concentrations in food products. Apart from saccharin, the most commonly used non-nutritive (intense) sweeteners are cyclamates, aspartame and acesulfame K.

Unlike nutritional sweeteners, non-nutritive sweeteners do not provide viscosity or texture to products, so bulking agents such as polydextrose are often required in manufacturing.

In the following table, for your interest, you can look at several types of sweeteners and their sweetness compared to sugar.

Sweetener Sweetness versus sugar
Aspartame 200 times sweeter than sugar
Erythritol and xylitol 60-70% sugar sweetness
Saccharin and sucralose 600 times sweeter than sugar
Sorbitol 30% less sweet than sugar
Stevia 300 times sweeter than sugar
Thaumatin 2500 times sweeter than sugar

How do sweeteners work?

The sensation of sweetness is transmitted through specific protein molecules, called receptors, located on the surface of specialized taste cells. All sweeteners work by binding to these receptors on the outside of cells. The increased sweetness of non-nutritive sweeteners relative to sucrose may be due to either tighter or longer binding of these synthetic compounds to the receptors.

In which foods can we find sweeteners?

  • diet foods (bakery, sweets, dairy products, desserts, jams, soft drinks)
  • chewing gums
  • candies

Are sweeteners in food safe for us?

High concentrations of saccharin and cyclamates in the diet of rats have been shown to induce the development of bladder tumors in the animals. Because of these results, the use of cyclamates has been banned in several countries, including the United States, and the use of saccharin must include a disclaimer regarding its potential health risks. However, there has been no reported evidence of bladder cancer in humans when consuming these sweeteners. Both aspartame and acesulfame K have been considered relatively safe, with no evidence of carcinogenic potential in animal studies.

It is important to note that although sweeteners are considered safe, they should be consumed in moderation. Excessive use of sweeteners can cause digestive problems and affect blood sugar levels. Additionally, some sweeteners can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

However, sweeteners can also have beneficial effects for us compared to traditional sugar, such as the prevention of obesity, diabetes or tooth decay.

Don’t forget to try our healthy recipes for sugar-free Christmas cookies in 7 delicious variations!