Why do this? The holy grail of food technology is to find a no-calorie sweetener that tastes as good as sugar, has no bitter aftertaste, and can be marketed as “natural” because it’s extracted from plants. Examples: Stevia extracted from leaves Monk fruit sweetener.
As with high fructose corn syrup, not everyone considers these sweeteners to be natural since they have to go through chemical processing steps.
Stevia is extracted from leaves with ethanol. Whether this process can be considered natural is currently under debate in Europe. Some European regulators prefer “extracted from a plant source.”
Here are some of the articles. For the complete collection, click here.
It might not have garnered as much publicity as stevia, but monk fruit (luo han guo) “has found a niche within the all-natural market but will hit mass market sooner than stevia in this space”, according to one leading supplier… Read
While traders “jumping in and out of the stevia marketplace” are disrupting prices and standards by peddling some “awful” extracts, high-quality stevia suppliers in it for the long-haul will ultimately prosper, according to one leading player… Read
While stevia is beginning to take off in a number of baked goods and snack categories in the US, Asian and South American markets, some other emerging ‘natural’ sweeteners look ready to take it on in the segment, claims Datamonitor… Read
The US alternative sweeteners market will grow by 3.3% a year to reach about $1.4bn in 2015 – and naturally positioned sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar will lead the way, claims a new report from market research organization Freedonia… Read
Thanks to alert reader Glen for pointing out that the FDA already has a regulation for Corn Sugar in the Code of Federal Regulations, under food substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). CFR Section 184.1857 reads:
(a) corn sugar (C6H12O6, CAS Reg. No. 50-99-7), commonly called D-glucose or dextrose, is the chemical [alpha]-D-glucopyranose. It occurs as the anhydrous or the monohydrate form and is produced by the complete hydrolysis of corn starch with safe and suitable acids or enzymes, followed by refinement and crystallization from the resulting hydrolysate.
(b) The ingredient meets the specifications of the Food Chemicals Codex, 3d Ed. (1981), pp. 97-98 under the heading “Dextrose….”
(c) In accordance with 184.1(b)(1), the ingredient is used in food with no limitation other than current good manufacturing practice.
The Corn Refiners have just petitioned the FDA to be allowed to use the name Corn Sugar to apply to both glucose/dextrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). But the existing definition seems to exclude HFCS. While HFCS is about half glucose, it is also about half fructose, and its manufacture from corn starch requires one more enzyme.
A reminder about sugar chemistry:
Glucose is the sugar in blood, and dextrose is the name given to glucose produced from corn but biochemically they are identical.
Fructose is the principal sugar in fruit. In fruit, it raises no issues because it is accompanied by nutrients and fiber.
Sucrose is table sugar. It is a double sugar, containing one part each of glucose (50%) and fructose (50%), chemically bound together. Enzymes in the intestine quickly and efficiently split sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are absorbed into the body as single sugars.
HFCS is made from corn starch. It contains roughly equivalent amounts of glucose (45 to 58%) and fructose (42 to 55%).
HFCS raises several issues, health and otherwise:
Quantity: the U.S. food supply provides to every American (all ages) about 60 pounds of sucrose and another 60 pounds of HFCS each year. This is way more than is good for health. Sugars of any kind provide calories but no nutrients.
Fructose: increasing evidence suggests that the metabolism of fructose–which differs from that of glucose–is associated with abnormalities. This means that it is best to reduce intake of fructose from table sugar as well as HFCS.
Farm subsidies: these go to large corn producers and have kept down the cost of HFCS relative to that of sucrose. The use of corn to make ethanol has raised the relative price of HFCS.
Genetic modification: Most corn grown in the United States is genetically modified to resist insects or herbicides.
From a health standpoint, it makes no difference whether the sweetener is sucrose or HFCS.
As for agave sugar as a substitute: it can have much higher concentrations of fructose than either sucrose or HFCS but its labels do not give percentages so you have no way to know how much.
Given all this, what’s your guess about what the FDA will decide?
I wish I could answer all of the questions that come into Feedback or Comments, but I cannot except occasionally. It’s a rainy day in New York and today seems to be one of those occasions.
Q: Does the caloric value of a food change when it’s cooked? In his latest book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human,” Harvard Primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that cooking foods changes the available nutrient content and actually raises the available calories.
A: The rules of physical chemistry tell us that matter cannot be destroyed or created so the number of calories available in a food does not change with temperature. What can change is our ability to use (digest, absorb) the calories that are there as well as our desire to eat the foods. Cooking makes the calories in potato starch more available, for example, but has hardly any effect on the calories in meat. Both, in my opinion at least, taste better cooked. But cooked or not, the calorie differences will be small and unlikely to account significantly for weight change.
The nutrient situation is also complicated. Cooking destroys some nutrients (vitamin C is a good example) but makes others more available (beta-carotene). This is another reason why nutritionists are always advising variety in food intake. Variety applies to cooked and raw, as well.
Q. Can you please explain what benefits, if any, there are in using a “natural” sweetener, e.g. agave, over regular sugar? Are there any differences in terms of glucose/fructose makeup?
A. Agave is more expensive so you probably won’t use as much of it. Beyond that, it is higher in fructose than table sugar or honey. This is because agave contains inulin, a polymer of fructose, which must be hydrolyzed (broken down by heat or enzymes) to fructose to make the sweetener. It’s a processed sweetener requiring one hydrolysis step, requiring more processing than honey and less than high fructose corn syrup. It has the same number of calories as any other sugar, about 4 per gram or 16 per teaspoon.
Q. Also, you’ve written on a prior blog that fructose is “preferentially” metabolized into fat by the body. Can you explain in more detail what that means?
A. More and more evidence suggests that high amounts of fructose in the diet are not good for health. Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and nobody worries about that because fruits don’t contain all that much and the sugar is accompanies by vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are well worth eating. Honey, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup (a misnomer) are about 50% each glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are metabolized differently and some investigators believe that excessive amounts of fructose stress metabolism in ways that encourage fat deposition. Eating a lot of sugars of any kind is not a great idea, which is why there are so many concerns about soft drinks these days.
A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studiesshowed that there is no significant evidence for concludingthat dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased riskof CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease]. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVDrisks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrientsused to replace saturated fat.
This is a review of previous epidemiological studies (not clinical trials). These fail to find a correlation between consumption of saturated fat and heart disease. This could be because there is no correlation or there is one but they can’t find it. My interpretation: even if there is one, it is likely to be small.
I am increasingly convinced that studies of single nutrients – sugar, fructose, saturated fat, or even omega-3s – will give complicated results when removed from their dietary context. People who eat foods containing a lot of sugars or animal fats eat and behave differently than people who do not, but not so differently that health differences will show up in the kinds of studies scientists are currently able to do.
Keep in mind: nutrition science is exceedingly difficult to do because there are so many factors in foods that affect health and so many behavioral, economic, and social factors that affect what people eat.
All of this is why I find nutrition so interesting but I can understand why others might find it frustrating.
This page is somewhat disorganized in that I now put occasional print, audio, and video interviews, which used to be separated, together by year. The section at the very end is called Controversies; it is where I post letters from critics. Scroll down to find whatever you are looking for. Media interviews and reviews for specific books are on the pages for that book. For podcasts and videos of presentations, look under Appearances and scroll down for Past Appearances.
September 16 Speech at Columbia University conference on Global Food Systems: Their Impact on Nutrition and Health for All on panel on Advanced Technologies, Food Safety and the Role of Local and Organic Food Production (video)
September 5, 2007 Scientific American Podcast with Steve Mirsky. Because I am a Paulette Goddard professor at NYU, he sends along an article he wrote about Einstein’s experience with the gorgeous movie star.
Are you responsible for your own weight? Balko R. Pro: Absolutely. Government has no business interfering with what you eat. Brownell K, Nestle M. Con: Not if Blaming the Victim Is Just an Excuse to Let Industry off the Hook. Time June 7, 2004:113.