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Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar Alcohols and Hidden Sweeteners

Food companies will try almost anything to lower the sugar content of their foods. Sugar alcohols are one of the latest trends, but chemically altering existing sweeteners is also popular. Have you seen any of these artificial sweeteners in the food you eat?

Sugar Alcohols | Common Names (Erythritol, Glycerol, Hydrogenated Glucose Syrups (HGS), Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSH), Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol) They Range: .2 to 4.3 - Calories Per Gram

Don't let the consumer-friendly name fool you. Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) don't contain sugar or alcohol. Rather, their chemical structure is merely similar to sugars and alcohols. They occur naturally in foods and come from plant products like fruits and berries.

Sugar Alcohols do have calories, but typically only one half to one-third of traditional sugar. Diabetics and hypoglycemics should be aware that sugar alcohols do raise blood sugar levels, just not as much as regular sugar. Sugar alcohols also aren't metabolized by oral bacteria, so they don't contribute to tooth decay.

The nasty little secret sugar alcohols hide is that they can cause bloating, diarrhea, and a laxative effect, especially when eaten in larger quantities. (Erythritol is a notable exception because it is absorbed in the small intestine and your body disposes of it through urine.)

There are numerous reports of people showing up in emergency rooms with severe stomach cramping after eating foods with sugar alcohols in them. If you've experienced that problem, check the label for Mannitol or Sorbitol, the most likely suspects.

The few studies we were able to find on sugar alcohols don't seem to show any potential for long-term toxicity to humans, but if you've got a sensitive stomach, you might want to avoid them because of the "gastric distress" they can cause.

Neohesperidine Dihydrochalcone | Common & Trade Names (NDHC, NHP-DC, Citrosa) - 0 Calories Per Gram

Neohesperidine was discovered as the result of a 1960s research program by the USDA. Two researchers, Horowitz and Gentili, were looking for ways to minimize the taste of bitter flavorants in citrus juices. They discovered several sweet compounds, but only neohesperidine went on to have commercial applications.

Neohesperidine is 1500-1800 times sweeter than sugar at threshold concentrations and about 340 times sweeter than sugar weight-for-weight. It was approved by the European Union as a sweetener but cannot be sold under that designation in the United States. Currently, it is only approved as a "flavor ingredient" in the U.S. and it is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe).

Neohesperidine is marketed under the name Citrosa by Exquim, S.A., a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical group Ferrer Internacional, S.A.

Alitame | Common & Trade Names (Aclame) - 1.4 Calories Per Gram

Developed by Pfizer in the 1980s, alitame is an aspartic acid containing dipeptide like aspartame and neotame. It's 2000 times sweeter than sugar and was approved for use in food and beverages in Australia, China, Columbia, Mexico and New Zealand. It is NOT an approved food additive in the United States, so you shouldn't see it in any food or beverage products.

According to the FDA website, as of August 2006, the company that petitioned to have alitame cleared for U.S. consumption, Danisco Cultor America Inc. was notified that their petition was found deficient after a detailed review by the Office of Food Additive (OFAS). Danisco Cultor America Inc. then asked the FDA to hold their petition in abeyance. Until the parts of the petition that were found deficient are corrected, the FDA won't work on or update that petition.

We'll review the medical literature once alitame is cleared for sale in the U.S.

Neotame | Common & Trade Names (Neotame) - 0 Calories Per Gram

Neotame was developed by the NutraSweet Company. It is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA approved neotame for sale in the United States in 2002, making it the newest artificial sweetener approved.

More than 100 studies were conducted on neotame and later reviewed by the FDA before approval. No studies have raised any safety issues but, the chemical structure of neotame is very close to aspartame. Because of this similarity, it has been surmised that the same problems people have had with aspartame will also surface in consumers who use neotame. As of July 2012 (six years after this article was first published), we cannot find any consumer products in the United States with neotame in them.

We hope this series has given you some insight into the artificial sweetener market and that you can use it to make better choices about which ones you choose to eat.

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Updated 3/25/2012
Updated 7/3/2012