A chemist in his twenties has created a new sugar substitute from unused corn cobs, The Guardian reported recently. The chemist, Javier Larragoiti, invented Xilinat for his diabetic father, who complained about the tastes of other sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners are still misunderstood by many.
According to The Guardian, Javier Larragoiti was a freshman in chemical engineering at a college in Mexico City when his father was diagnosed with diabetes. Larragoiti spent the next decade developing his own sugar substitute. Using artificial sweeteners can solve some of the problems associated with eating an overabundance of sugar.
Overview of Non-nutritive Sweeteners
Many sugar substitutes we use in our diets are “non-nutritive” sweeteners. But what does that mean? “The definition is, they still provide a sweet taste, but without energy—that is, they don’t have any calories,” said Professor Roberta H. Anding, Director of Sports Nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. There are five non-nutritive sweeteners commonly found on the market.
The first is Acesulfame-K, which is sold as the brand names Sunett, Sweet & Safe, and Sweet One. Next is aspartame, also known as NutraSweet. According to Professor Anding, NutraSweet is the same chemical compound as Equal, another popular sugar substitute. “Aspartame is something called a ‘dipeptide,'” she said. “An amino acid is a protein—it’s two amino acids that together are sweet. Apart, they’re not.”
The third non-nutritive sweetener on the market is neotame. The fourth is saccharin, which Professor Anding said is in Sweet ‘N’ Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet. Finally, sucralose is what’s contained in Splenda.
Professor Anding explained that they all have similar properties, being several hundred times sweeter than regular table sugar. “They are all noncariogenic, meaning they do not cause cavities,” she said. Aspartame stands out from the others. Since it’s made from a protein, it can cause a minor glycemic response—a slight rise in blood sugar—whereas, the other non-nutritive sweeteners don’t. Aspartame also may lose some of its sweetness after being subjected to prolonged heat.
Potential Benefits of Non-nutritive Sweeteners
“Non-nutritive sweeteners have the potential to reduce calorie intake,” Professor Anding said. “They can save up to 16 calories a teaspoon per sweetening power.” She pointed out that the average 12-ounce can of soda contains 150 calories, and if you consume two cans per day above your recommended calorie level, you gain 30 pounds a year. In this instance, any reduction in calories is a good thing.
There is also potential to aid diabetics. “Due to their incomplete absorption, sugar alcohols cause a lower glycemic response than glucose, fructose, and sucrose,” Professor Anding said. “If a diabetic has higher sugar levels to begin with, if I can blunt some of that blood sugar rise and still have a sweet product, that might be a good thing. Diabetics may use non-nutritive sweeteners because they don’t raise your blood sugar.”
Those with Type 2 diabetes may also find that non-nutritive sweeteners help control their overall body fat. Professor Anding explained that Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, and the lower calories of non-nutritive sweeteners can lead to a smaller amount of body fat and a diminished risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Professor Roberta H. Anding contributed to this article. Professor Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She received her bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and her master’s degree in Nutrition from Louisiana State University.