By Deja Becknell, BSN
nutraMetrix Health & Nutrition Writer
Added sugar is one of the most controversial ingredients in the American diet, thus paving the way for a new industry of low to no calorie sweeteners. Let’s debunk the common misconceptions of common sweeteners in the supplement industry.
It’s no secret that Americans love their sugar, as it’s estimated that the average person consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day (the equivalent to 30 teaspoons of sugar).
It’s widely established that excess sugar consumption can increase the total fat in the body and also increase the risk of negative health outcomes. This has fueled the popularity of low calorie and no calorie sweeteners, which allows for a sweet taste without the added calories.
Why are sweeteners important in the food and supplement industry?
In the past, fruit and honey were the main types of sweeteners available. Since 1970, there’s been a steady increase in total consumption from all sweeteners. It’s now estimated that sweeteners make up approximately 20% of the average Americans’ diet. Who doesn’t love a sweet taste? Marketing research indicates that 95% of consumers want dietary supplements and functional foods to taste good. Sweeteners are added to products to improve both the taste and shelf life. Sweetness often balances bitter, sour, or salty flavors present in foods and supplements.
Natural sweeteners have received lots of interest due to health concerns over the consumption of processed sugar as well as claims associated with the safety of some artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners are carbohydrates from vegetables, trees, seeds, roots, and nuts. The two natural sugars that exist include glucose and fructose, and these sweeteners are often used in supplements as a way to offset the bitter flavors of vitamins, plant extracts, and minerals.
Glucose is the most common carbohydrate, about 75% as sweet as ordinary sugar. We produce glucose naturally in our bodies, as it exists in every living thing. Due to its chemical structure, glucose can be absorbed directly into the blood from the intestines. It has a very high glycemic index (100), meaning it raises blood sugar quickly if ingested. Fructose is sugar derived from fruit sources and other plants and vegetables. This one is the sweetest of the common natural sugars.
Some natural sweeteners exist without added chemicals and are often promoted as healthier options, but even “natural sweeteners” can undergo some level of processing or refining. A few common ones used in food and supplements include:
- Fruit juices and nectars
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Agave nectar
Let’s discuss some of the myths surrounding a popular natural sweetener, Stevia.
Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener that’s 100-300 times sweeter than table sugar. Stevia isn’t new to the game; it’s actually been around for ages. You might be wondering how stevia could be considered a natural sweetener if it’s processed? Stevia is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, an herbal shrub native to South America. The plant was first consumed there over 200 years ago when indigenous people used the leaves to sweeten beverages or chewed them for their sweet taste. To make stevia, its sweet-tasting compounds called steviol glycosides—are extracted from the plant leaves and purified, using water or alcohol. With a glycemic index of zero, this is a popular option for many. Stevia is available in several varieties, all differing in ingredients and processing method. But with all good things, there has to be a catch, right?
Stevia causes excess belly fat and weight gain
Stevia has remained very controversial over the years. There have been claims that stevia contributes to weight gain and excess belly fat. Currently, no research has identified an association between stevia consumption and weight gain. Weight gain is often the result of several factors including stress, eating habits, lack of exercise, and more. High-quality stevia causes no accumulation of build-up in the body and is not absorbed into the upper gastrointestinal tract. When it reaches the colon, gut microbes remove the glucose molecules and use them as an energy source. The remaining steviol backbone is then absorbed via the portal vein, metabolized by the liver, and excreted in urine.
Studies have shown that stevia can help support an overall decrease in total calories, blood sugar levels, and weight management when consumed in recommended quantities. Research shows a 150 lb person would need to consume approximately 40 small tabletop packets per day to exceed the current ADI (acceptable daily intake) for stevia, much lower than average amounts present in supplements. This doesn’t mean that all brands using stevia are created equally, so make sure to choose a high-quality source.
What is an ADI?
The FDA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each sweetener. ADI is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of a lifetime.
Artificial sweeteners are carbohydrate substitutes that often replace natural sweeteners due to their cost-effectiveness. These low-calorie or non-caloric synthetic sweeteners are highly processed in a lab and many times sweeter than plain sugar. Some of the most common types include aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda), neotame, and saccharin (Sweet n Low). You need only a fraction of artificial sweetener compared to the normal amount of sugar you would use. This has fueled the popularity of artificial sweeteners because they can provide the sweet taste you’re looking for without the calories of added sugars. Let’s highlight a couple of popular ones used in food and supplements today:
Maltodextrin is a highly processed white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. It’s inexpensive and easy to produce, so it’s often used as a thickener in processed foods and to increase shelf life. To create it, first the starches are cooked, and then acids or enzymes are added to break it down further. The resulting white powder is water-soluble and has a neutral taste. Maltodextrin is safe to consume in very small amounts since it’s high on the glycemic index, meaning that it can cause a spike in blood sugar.
Maltodextrin causes tooth decay
Tooth decay is defined as the breakdown of teeth caused by acids made by oral bacteria. While it is true that the bacteria in our mouth probably loves maltodextrin, this is true for all forms of sugar – whether natural, artificial, organic, non-GMO, etc. The best way to protect your teeth from maltodextrin (and other sugars) is to practice good dental hygiene and eating habits.
If Maltodextrin is also used as a thickener, why would it be found in a supplement?
It is true that in many foods, maltodextrin does act as a bulking agent, but not in nutraMetrix products. Maltodextrin is used to prevent ingredients from reacting with others if the product is exposed to excessive moisture. Maltodextrin has also been shown to support the absorption of other nutrients. Depending on the product, there is an average of 30-50mg of total maltodextrin in a 3-gram serving, adding less than one calorie per serving. So you can see this adds very little calories and no harmful effects on blood sugar levels.
Sucralose is a no-calorie sweetener used in Splenda and other retail sweeteners that helps sweeten foods, beverages and supplements. Sucralose is created with table sugar; however, it’s not sugar. It’s actually 600 times sweeter than sugar! The structure of sucralose prevents enzymes in the digestive tract from breaking it down. Approximately 85% of consumed sucralose is not absorbed by the body. The remaining ~15% that is absorbed, is not broken down for energy and excreted quickly in the urine.
Sucralose causes weight gain by increasing sugar cravings
Over the past 20 years, over 200 studies of research exist on sucralose. Research has found no association between sucralose and increased appetite and cravings. When used properly, no-calorie sweeteners can help support weight management by reducing the number of overall calories. These sweeteners should only be considered a tool that can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle along with diet and exercise.
The FDA established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for sucralose of 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) per day. For a person weighing 150 pounds, this equals about 340mg of sucralose – or more than 28 packets of sucralose, consumed every day over a lifetime. This doesn’t mean we can get away with consuming all of our favorite sugary snacks whenever we want, because many foods and beverages still contain high amounts of sweeteners. However; the very small quantities present in superior quality supplements should cause no risk of overconsumption.
Why is there sugar present in some of the nutraMetrix Isotonix Formulas?
nutraMetrix includes substantial doses of vitamins, minerals, and plant extracts in each formula. Adding a minimal amount of sugar is one way to help cover bitter or astringent tastes. Fructose, glucose, and maltodextrin contribute to the sugar content in some nutraMetrix formulas. Using fructose as the main sugar in formulations instead of glucose, allows for a lower glycemic index (19 out of 100). Unlike some other sweeteners, consuming fructose provides a clean taste and does not cause highs and lows in blood sugar. Fructose can also act as a dispersing agent in order to ensure uniform distribution of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
Isotonix formulas are a low sugar alternative, containing no more than 2-4 grams of fructose per serving (depending on the product). Unsweetened grape juice is a fantastic source of OPC’s, and your average 8 oz glass yields a total of 121 mg of OPC’s and roughly 38g of sugar. Two servings of Isotonix OPC-3 contain 150mg of OPC’s with only 4g of sugar, meaning the glass of grape juice can contain up to 9x more. The amount of sweeteners used in high-quality supplements has far less impact on glycemic levels compared to many popular foods and beverages.
It’s important to remember that in general, sugar should not exceed 10% of our daily energy intake. With over 50 different names, sugar can be a master of disguise. This isn’t to say it’s “bad” or should be forbidden, but overloads of sweeteners can harm your health and wreak havoc on the body, regardless if it’s a natural or artificial source. Like all things, moderation is key. Check nutrition labels and ingredients to determine the sweeteners used in each serving. For the average person, sugar isn’t a problem, unless your intake is preventing you from consuming the nutritious foods you need. Compared to processed foods and beverages, high-quality supplements often contain small amounts of sugar that have little impact on glycemic levels. If you have any questions, never hesitate to contact the company directly, an honest one will be happy to release nutrition information for any product.
Consumer Reports. Is Stevia an Artificial Sweetener?
Food Insight. (2019, February 20). Everything You Need to Know About Sucralose. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sucralose
Pros and cons of artificial sweeteners. (2020, October 8). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating
What’s the Difference between Natural and Refined Sugars? (2020, February 4). https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog