By Megan Meyer, Microbiology and Immunology Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and 2014 summer intern at the International Food Information Council Foundation
It’s no secret that we prefer sweet-tasting foods. Scientists hypothesize that this preference may stem from an evolutionary survival mechanism that helped people who lived as hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago to survive. Today, sweet foods and beverages are part of the average American diet and are a common component of many social and familial traditions. However, increasing waistlines are driving awareness of overconsumption of calories from all sources, including sweets. As a result, there is great interest and need for safe and good-tasting food and beverage products that may help reduce overall calorie intake without giving up our favorite sweet foods.
Low-calorie sweeteners (LCS), and the foods and beverages that contain them, provide safe and delicious, reduced-calorie options that can help with weight management. Many LCS offer a taste similar to that of sucrose (table sugar), but are generally hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than sucrose. Thus, LCS are needed only in very small amounts, providing the sweetness consumers desire, while providing fewer calories.
The use of LCS has steadily increased over time, with 187 million Americans consuming low-calorie or sugar-free foods and beverages in 2010. With this large demand, there is increasing interest in new LCS products that provide sweet-tasting options with few or no calories. The most recent FDA-approved LCS to enter the market is advantame, which was approved in the U.S. as a food additive in May 2014. Additionally, advantame is approved as a sweetener in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Advantame is a no-calorie, high intensity sweetener made from vanillin and aspartame. Because it is so sweet, only a very small amount is needed to provide the desired sweetness. Advantame has been found to be safe for consumption in foods and beverages by the general population. Moreover, advantame is a safe alternative for people with diabetes, since consumption of advantame does not impact blood glucose levels. While it contains phenylalanine, unlike aspartame, the small amount of advantame needed to sweeten food products means they do not require a warning label for people with phenylketonuria, or PKU (a rare metabolic disorder requiring people to avoid phenylalanine, an amino acid that is present in meat, beans, and many other foods, as well as aspartame).
Advantame can currently be used by food and beverage manufacturers to sweeten a variety products, including some coffee, iced tea, and powdered beverages. Advantame can also be used as a flavor enhancer in some chewing gum, yogurt, and beverages. It is heat stable, and therefore can be used in a variety of cooking and baking applications. Foods containing advantame may still contain calories and/or carbohydrates from other ingredients in the product; therefore, it is wise to read the label to determine how foods containing advantame fit into your individual eating plan.
The addition of advantame to the spectrum of low-calorie sweeteners will no-doubt provide consumers with more ways to consume foods that satisfy their sweet tooth without adding significant calories. While they are a tool for weight management, low-calorie sweeteners are not a magic bullet, and thus it is still important to consume a healthful diet rich in nutrients, while also getting regular physical activity.
For more information about advantame and other LCS, visit the IFIC Foundation resource, Facts About Low-Calorie Sweeteners.
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