Two types of sweeteners commonly found in foods and beverages are: sugars, which provide kilojoules, and low-kilojoule sweeteners, which provide few or no kilojoules. People who have a sweet tooth, but are also trying to watch their weight, often choose non-nutritive sweeteners.
Sweeteners like table sugar (sucrose) and honey are considered nutritive sweeteners because they are energy-containing carbohydrates. Sucrose contains about 17 kilojoules per gram or 68 kilojoules per teaspoon. When it comes to weight management, it's important to remember that all kilojoules count, whatever food or beverage they come from, including those from beverages with kilojoules.
Low-kilojoule sweeteners are sometimes called sugar substitutes, non-nutritive sweeteners or intense sweeteners because their sweetness is so potent - ranging from 200-600 times the sweetness of sucrose (table sugar). That means a little goes a long way. This is why foods with sweeteners such as aspartame, Sucralose and saccharin can taste sweet but contain few or no kilojoules.
There is confusion surrounding low-kiljoule sweeteners, particularly aspartame, the main sweetener contained in sparkling beverages and a number of foods. Having more information about the sweeteners used in beverages can help you make informed decisions and better understand the role beverages can play in an active, healthy lifestyle that includes a sensible, balanced diet and regular physical activity.
More than 200 scientific studies and food regulatory bodies across the world including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), Food and Drug Administration in the US (FDA) and the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA), support the safety of aspartame as a non-nutritive sweetener.
- Sweetener position - full report
Low-kilojoule sweeteners used in our beverages in New Zealand
Aspartame is a low-kilojoule sweetener composed of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Both of these amino acids are found commonly in protein-containing foods, such as eggs, meat, fish, dairy products and nuts. Because Aspartame is 180-200 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), such small amounts are needed to sweeten foods that its energy (kilojoule) contribution to the diet is negligible. For example, a mere 190 milligrams of aspartame (about four kilojoules) has the same sweetening power as 40 grams of sugar (680 kilojoules). Aspartameis available as a tabletop sweetener under the brand names Equal® and NutraSweet® . It is also used in low-kilojoule food and beverage products, ranging from soft drinks and chewing gum to gelatins, confectionary, desserts, yoghurts and sugar-free cough dropsAspartame contains phenylalanine and should not be consumed by people with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). Food and beverage products that contain aspartame carry a statement on the label alerting people with this condition to the presence of phenylalanine. But the fact that a small portion of the population has this rare condition does not mean in any way that aspartame is unsafe for other consumers.
Discovered in 1967, Acesulphame-k potassium (also called Acesulphame K or ace-K) is a low-kilojoule sweetener approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). It has a clean, sweet taste and generally does not exhibit any off taste in soft drinks. Products with Acesulphame K can be found in about 90 different countries. It is used in thousands of foods and beverages, including tabletop sweeteners, desserts, puddings, baked goods, soft drinks, confectionary and canned-food.
Sucralose is derived from sugar and is 600 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) and does not contribute kilojoules to the diet. It was discovered in 1976 by researchers at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, during a collaborative research program with the sugar producer Tate & Lyle, PLC. Sucralose is used as an ingredient in a broad range of foods and beverages and as a tabletop sweetener.
Stevia is a plant in the chrysanthemum family native to Paraguay. Its leaf is a unique source of intense, natural sweetness. The stevia sweetener is commonly referred to in New Zealand as either stevia or stevia extract. It may also be referred to as steviol glycosides, rebiana or rebaudioside. In a process similar to steeping tea, the dried stevia leaves are soaked in water to unlock the best-tasting, sweet substance found in the leaf, and which is then purified. Many other natural ingredients are commonly extracted in a similar manger, including vanilla, almond, ginger, spearmint, pistachio and cinnamon. Sweeteners made from stevia are from natural origins, they are about 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), and they provide zero kilojoules. In New Zealand, stevia is approved for use in a variety of foods and as a table top sweetener.