Reading labels on grocery products selected in the store can often lead to dizziness. Specialist names and signs unknown to the average consumer arouse anxiety and interest. Why is ordinary sugar replaced by other ingredients? Do these supplements affect your health? Or – is their influence necessarily negative?
The difference between substances and sweeteners
The original ingredients used to give the products a sweet taste were sugar and honey. However, with the increase in food production, the demand for more economical and easier to use ingredients has also increased. Today, both raw materials and sweeteners are used in food production. Raw materials (except sugar and honey) also include glucose – fructose syrup. On the other hand, sweeteners are low-intensity sweeteners, i.e. sweeteners and polyols.
The main difference between raw materials and sweeteners is the energy value. Sugar (in the form of, for example, glucose, fructose, sucrose or also glucose-fructose syrup) provides 4 kilocalories from 1 gram, polyols about 2.4 kilocalories, and sweeteners do not provide them at all.
The use of low-calorie sweeteners as a sweetening agent for dishes and drinks is an individual decision. There are currently 10 sweeteners in the European Union, most of which are available on store shelves. More information about them can be found in the first part of the article.
Polyols are sugar alcohols that occur naturally, but for use in the food industry are made of simple sugars. They are included in sweeteners (along with sweeteners). The main products where these compounds are found are chewing gum, drinks and sweets. In contrast to sweeteners, these already provide energy – about 2.4 kcal from the 1 gram of polyols used. So it is still lower than table sugar. The substances in this group, approved for use, are sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomalt, lactitol and xylitol. In addition to the sweet taste, these substances take on the other properties of sugar in technology, i.e. structuring, maintaining humidity, giving color. Attention! Polyols consumed in excess can cause a laxative effect!
Birch sugar, or xylitol
Xylitol was discovered in the late nineteenth century, and its production in the United States has been running since 1960. In Poland, however, appeared only at the beginning of the 21st century! The natural source of this sugar is birch, it can also be obtained from a corn cob, and also occurs in berries and mushrooms. Xylitol is sweeter than regular sugar, but has a low glycemic index, so it does not increase insulin levels, unlike sucrose. In addition to the characteristics associated with sweet taste , its advantages are also limiting the development of yeast and mold in the digestive tract (when it is consumed instead of traditional sugar). It is also said to be able to increase the absorption of calcium, which improves the mineralization of bones and teeth.
Glucose – fructose syrup, isoglucose, corn syrup
These three names refer to one sweetener. Corn syrup is a source of simple carbohydrates that provide 4 kilocalories from 1 gram. This compound is broken down in the human body in the same way as sucrose. The main reason for the use of glucose-fructose syrup in the food industry is functionality – it has a liquid form, so it can be easily added during production. In addition, it gives foodstuffs the right quality. Glucose – fructose syrup is produced from corn starch (table sugar and sugar cane or sugar beet).
Consequences of consumption of glucose – fructose syrup
It is difficult to control the amount of corn syrup, which is taken during the day, because it is a very common food additive. Therefore, to avoid continuous supply of this compound to the body, it is worth choosing natural and low processed products. Large intake of syrup, just like ordinary sugar, causes an increase in body weight (overweight and obesity). In turn, these diseases may be the cause of further diseases, among others type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, joint problems or dermatological diseases. In addition, consumption of corn syrup may increase appetite due to cheating the feeling of satiety in the body (the European Food Safety Authority has not yet issued an official position on this issue).
Sugar substitutes, safety
Sweeteners, polyols and corn syrup belong to the group of food additives. Within the European Union, all such compounds used in the food industry are tested and controlled. According to the current state of knowledge, all permitted additives are safe. Therefore, there should be no fear that these sugar substitutes will directly harm your health.
Sweet taste and eating habits
The lack of direct danger resulting from the consumption of sugar substitutes does not mean that they can be used without restraint. The habit and pleasure of the sweet taste causes the selection and consumption of the products being its source. This, in turn, increases the intake of the total number of kilocalories during the day and – uncontrolled – leads to weight gain. A critical point is also shaping the eating habits of children who naturally have a greater liking for sweet taste than adults. It is worth avoiding adding sugar where it depends only on our choice and reducing the consumption of sweet products. This rule also applies to people with diabetes, who belong to the group of people often looking for sugar substitutes. At stake is health!