CHICAGO — Are all added sugars created equal? Does the body differentiate between sweet carbohydrates that contain the same four calories per gram? Does it matter if it’s organic cane sugar, agave nectar, honey or high-fructose corn syrup? Some authorities believe there’s a difference, others do not. Right now, all that appears to matter is for Americans to make efforts to reduce their added sugar intake.
On May 20, the Food and Drug Administration released mandatory nutrition labeling revisions that change the content and format of the Nutrition Facts Panel. One of the biggest changes is with the carbohydrate category. For the first time, the label must declare added sugars. Sugars now will be declared as total sugars. The value for total sugars will include all naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose in orange juice and lactose in milk, and added sugars. No Daily Value (D.V.) was set for total sugars; however, for added sugars, it is 10% of calories, or 50 grams for adults and children over four years of age.
This label declaration suggests that an added sugar is just that, an added sugar. Consumers need to reduce intake. How they get to less than 50 grams per day is a personal choice. Beverage manufacturers are assisting through ingredient manipulation and a few tricks of the trade.
Inherently a sweet source
Fruit ingredients long have been considered a natural way of sweetening beverages. Though this remains an option, the F.D.A. has issued some restrictions on label declaration. According to the final ruling, a manufacturer must declare as added sugars the amount of sugar in a juice ingredient that is above and beyond what would be contributed by the same volume of the same type of juice that is reconstituted to 100%. For example, if 15 grams of concentrated apple juice, which has 6 grams of sugars, is added to sweeten a ready-to-drink (R.-T.-D.) tea and the same amount (15 grams) of 100% apple juice contains 1.7 grams of sugar, 4.3 grams of the sugars in the apple juice concentrate would be considered added sugars in the tea.
There are some exceptions on what qualifies as an added sugar. Juice concentrates are exempt if added to 100% juices, 100% juice blends or diluted juice beverages when they are counted toward the per cent juice declaration or are used for Brix standardization. Also, 100% fruit or vegetable juices are not added sugars.
This past summer, Arteasans Beverages L.L.C., North Miami Beach, Fla., introduced a line of R.-T.-D. 5-calorie iced teas featuring fresh-brewed tea infused with fruit juices and botanicals. Some of the botanicals function as flavor and sweetener enhancers. In addition, the teas contain natural flavors and stevia for a little extra sweetening.
Beverage formulators need to be aware of ingredients labeled as natural flavor that are known to contribute sweetness or amplify the sweet intensity of other sweeteners. For example, thaumatin is a plant extract recognized for its taste-enhancement properties. In the United States, it does not have approval as a sweetener, and must be labeled as a natural flavor. Being approximately 2,000 to 3,000 times sweeter than sucrose, this natural flavor is water soluble and stable to heat and pH. It is a protein; therefore, it would be accounted for in the protein line of the Nutrition Facts Panel. Also as a protein, it contains 4 calories per gram, but because of its intense sweetness, usage levels are very low, and it contributes negligible calories or grams of protein.
Thaumatin is also known to mask off tastes, in particular those associated with some high-intensity sweeteners. It combines well with other sweeteners, helping extend and enhance the flavor profile and length of delivery. Its inclusion is never known, as it gets grouped into the all-encompassing natural flavor declaration.
Like thaumatin, some fiber ingredients contribute sweetness but are not approved for use as a sweetener. Their addition is declared in the mandatory fiber line, which is part of total carbohydrates.
For example, when chicory root, also known as inulin, is added to beverages, sweetness may be enhanced while fiber content increases. Some ingredients are as much as 65% the sweetness of sucrose, yet still contain at least 75% dietary fiber. Chicory root fiber is also known to work synergistically with high-intensity sweeteners and has masking properties to help provide a clean sweetness.