artificial sweeteners

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Substances which increase the sweetness of food. There are two main groups: bulk sweeteners and intense sweeteners.

Bulk sweeteners, such as hydrogenated glucose syrup and sorbitol, are used as flavour-enhancers in many processed foods; they have about the same calorific value as natural sugars. Sorbitol is frequently used as a sugar substitute in confectionery. It is used especially in confectionery for diabetics because it is slowly absorbed and therefore puts less strain on the pancreas than glucose and sucrose. It should be used with care, however, because it has a laxative side-effect with which some people find difficult to cope. European Community directives recommend bulk sweeteners should not be used in food intended for children under three years of age.

Intense sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, have no calories so they are often used as part of weight reducing diets. They produce their sweet taste by triggering specific receptors on the tongue. Some people believe that intense sweeteners disturb blood glucose control, stimulate the appetite, and increase the likelihood of suffering hunger pangs when on a weight-loss diet; there is little scientific evidence for this belief.

New, chemically engineered products much sweeter than current products are being developed and awaiting full approval. Among these super sweeteners are sucralose, 600 times sweeter than sugar, and alitame which is 2000 times sweeter. See also aspartame;acesulfame-K;cyclamate; and saccharin.

Subjects: Medicine and Health.

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