Sugar Cube

Will Smarter Sweeteners Improve the Food Supply?

Editorial Note: After this post was published, we learned from sharp-eyed scientists that the analysis in the study referenced below suffers from a Difference in Nominal Significance error. For more on this issue with this study, we refer you to this explanation of the problem, which includes links to other publications about this issue. To make a long story short, the results of this study appear to be neither clinically nor statistically meaningful.

Let’s get something straight. “Big Food” isn’t going anywhere. The global food and grocery business is a whopping 12 trillion dollars. That’s because the world has a lot of hungry mouths to feed and farmers markets can’t do it alone. But another thing to understand is that the food industry is feeling the pressure of consumers who want a better food supply. At the top of the list is a desire for less added sugar in the packaged foods they buy. So we’re encouraged to see a study that suggests smarter sweeteners might be a help.

Published in Nutrients, this randomized controlled trial of isomaltulose for 12 weeks found a significant reduction in fat mass for the test group. The comparison was to a control group that received food sweetened with sucrose instead of isomaltulose.

A Low-Glycemic Index Sweetener

Isomaltulose is a form of sugar that causes less of a spike in blood sugar than regular sucrose. It tastes like regular sugar, but it’s about half as sweet. Isomaltulose can be found naturally in honey or manufactured from sugar cane.

In the present study subjects received portion controlled breakfast, lunch, and two snacks. These controlled meals included 40 grams of either sucrose or isomaltulose. For dinner, subjects chose their own meals and portions based upon the UK Eatwell Guide.

It would appear that the low-glycemic sweetener led subjects to eat significantly fewer calories in their evening meal. While both groups cut their calorie intake over the 12 weeks of the study, the isomaltulose group cut theirs by about 260 calories more. So it’s little wonder that they lost more fat mass than the control group.

Intense Pressure on Sweeteners

Without a doubt, food makers are feeling intense pressure on their use of sweeteners. Nutrition Facts labels now call out how much sugar they add to every product in the grocery store. So smarter sweeteners are a welcome prospect.

This small study is hardly a breakthrough. It was short-term. Only 50 participants were in the study. But it does prove a point. The food industry can make a difference with smarter sweeteners and by using them more carefully.

Click here for the study, here for further perspective, and here for more background on isomaltulose.

Sugar Cube, photograph © David Santaolalla / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 28, 2020

One Response to “Will Smarter Sweeteners Improve the Food Supply?”

  1. January 28, 2020 at 9:29 am, David Brown said:

    I suppose every improvement in the food supply that makes it easier to keep from getting fat is a step in the right direction. However, added sugars are arguably a minor issue compared to culinary oils. .
    Then, there’s the issue of grain-fed livestock.
    And, of course, there’s the red meat food fight.