Fake Fat & Sugar of the Future

Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.

Saccharin was one of the first artificial sweeteners

Many people would like to cut down their fat intake for health reasons. Fat in the diet is important since it provides both essential fatty acids and serves as a carrier for important fat-soluble vitamins. While some fat is necessary, too much fat and saturated fat are associated with an increased risk of obesity, heart disease,cancer and other diseases.

Fat Replacers

But the modification of fat intake can beta real challenge for some people. Fat provides flavor and satiety as well as a pleasant mouth feel. When adopting a low-fat diet, one often has to limit the intake of favorite high-fat Foods and make different food selections. A number of fat replacements or substitutes have appeared on the market to help some people reduce their fat intake. These include maltodextrins, modified food starches, polydextrose, xanthum gum, Simplesse, and Olestra.

Simplesse is produced from milk and/or egg white proteins, water, pectin, sugar and citric acid, by a process called microparticulation. The tiny particles of hydrated protein produced are perceived by the tongue as a rich, creamy fluid. Each gram of Simplesse contains about 1-2 calories, compared to the 9 calories per gram off fat, which it replaces.

Olestra resembles fat in its appearance, taste and texture and the way it functions in foods. It can be used in frying, cooking and baking. Olestra, or sucrose polyester, is calorie-free since it cannot be digested and absorbed. It does, however, cause a decreased absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Do persons who consume non-digestible fat substitutes actually benefit from low-calorie intakes? We don’t know, but it is believed that many individuals compensate by increasing food intake to maintain their caloric level.

Sweet Substitutes

Many Americans have a sweet tooth. On average, 125 lbs of sugar and other calorie-containing sweeteners are consumed annually. In addition, an average of 20 lbs of artificial sweeteners are consumed annually. Artificial sweeteners have become popular alternatives for sugar. Currently, there are three FDA-approved sweeteners available o the market: Saccharin, Aspartame and Acesulfame-K.

While Saccharin is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and contains no calories, a major drawback is that it produces a bitter aftertaste. In the l970’s the FDA banned saccharin when tests linked it to bladder cancer in rats. Public protests led Congress to place a moratorium on the ban and conduct more testing. The law now requires saccharin-containing products to carry a warning about cancer. Pregnant women are advised to consult their doctors before using saccharin. Aspartame, manufactured und the brand name Nutrasweet and so under the name Equal, ranks as the country’s most popular sweetener. Unlike saccharin, it does not leave an aftertaste.

Aspartame has same number of calories by weight as sugar (4 calories/gram) but is 180-200 times sweeter so that a much smaller quantity can be used. The FDA has determined that a daily safe level is 50 mg of aspartame per kilogram body weight. An average can of soda pop contains about 225 mg aspartame. The FDA requires a product warning label for individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU), who lack the enzyme which breaks down the phenylalanine found in aspartame.

Acesulfame-K (or Ace-K) came on the market in 1988 under the name Sunette and is an ingredient in Sweet One. Ace-K is 200 times sweeter than sugar, leaves no aftertaste, and contains zero calories. However, it doesn’t give the same texture as sugar in baked goods.

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