Date
22 July 2017
Artificial sweeteners are low in calories or calorie-free, but they are not suitable for high consumption. Photo: HKEJ
Artificial sweeteners are low in calories or calorie-free, but they are not suitable for high consumption. Photo: HKEJ

Artificial sweeteners: Use moderately

Too much sugar is bad for the health.

That’s because excess calories that have not been used up end up as body fat.

In the long run people become obese and may suffer from obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

According to the latest guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), adults and children should reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake.

A further reduction to below 5 percent – i.e., roughly 25 grams or six teaspoons per day – would provide additional health benefits.

Artificial sweeteners are gaining popularity as sugar substitutes because these chemical substances are mostly low in calories or calorie-free.

Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium and neotame are five examples of artificial sweeteners commonly used in food items. They are all approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States.

Aspartame (阿斯巴甜). Approved by the FDA in 1996, aspartame is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. The acceptable daily intake is 40-50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. It has been widely applied in foods and drinks such as diet soft-drinks, yoghurt and chewing gum.

However, aspartame cannot be used in cooking or baking as heat destroys its structure. For those with phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder characterized by increased levels of a substance called phenylalanine in the blood, they must avoid this sweetener as it contains phenylalanine which could not be broken down by the body.

Sucralose (三氯蔗糖). Approved for use by FDA in 1998 as a non-nutritive sweetener in 15 food categories, sucralose is up to 600 times sweeter than sugar and the acceptable daily intake is 5 mg per kg of body weight.

It is used in a variety of food items, including weight-loss and diet products, beverages, chewing gum, juice and desserts. As it is heat stable, it is also widely used in baked goods.

Saccharin (糖精). Approved for use by FDA in weight-loss products and beverages, saccharin, like aspartame, cannot be applied in cooking or baking. It is around 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar and the acceptable daily intake is 15 mg per kg of body weight.

However, the American Medical Association suggests avoiding saccharin during pregnancy due to possible slow fetal clearance.

Acesulfame potassium (醋磺內酯鉀). First approved by FDA in 1988 for use in specific food and beverage categories, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) has been used as a general purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in food, except in meat and poultry, since 2003. The acceptable daily intake is 15 mg per kg of body weight.

Some beverage manufacturers give combined figures of acesulfame potassium and saccharin on food labels.

Neotame (紐甜). Neotame is approved by the FDA in 2002 as a general purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in food, except in meat and poultry. Since it is approximately 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar, the acceptable daily intake is 0.3 mg per kg of body weight. It is commonly found in dried fruit, soft drinks, baked goods and desserts.

Though artificial sweeteners carry low or no calories, they, like genuine sugar, are not suitable for high consumption for good health.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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DY/AC/CG

registered dietitian

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