Sweeteners and Sweetness

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There are five basic flavors that the human tongue can taste, they include sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and savouriness (Umami, 2015). The taste sweetness is enjoyed from various food products mainly through sugars and sweeteners (Nowicka et al., 2006).

 Human studies have shown that sweet taste receptors are not only found in tongue, but also in the lining of gastrointestinal tract as well as nasal epithelium, pancreatic islet cells, sperm and testes.

Taste buds are specialized chemoreceptors or taste cells present on the surface of tongues and palates. A stimulation of these cells cause the transmission of taste information to the brain, the brain then interprets the information as a sweet taste. The biochemical basis of sweetness has been investigated on the assumption that it is a stereo-chemical effect involving the binding of particular type of molecule to the taste bud protein.

Sweet taste is a generally enjoyable sensation and is predominantly associated with sugars and other sweet products.

Sweeteners are food additives that are used to improve the taste of everyday foods. They are also compounds that interact with taste buds that evoke a characteristic response and enhance the perception of sweet taste (Yarmolinsky et al., 2009).

The taste of sugar is intrinsically related to their stereo-chemical structure. All sugars known are sweet and that is because they contain OH (Hydroxyl) groups with a particular orientation that can interact with the taste receptor for sweetness in our tongues.  The sweetest common sugar known is Fructose.

The sweetness property of Sugar is affected by its configuration and conformation. How a sugar is configured and how conformed it is determines how sweet the sugar is.

Sweeteners generally can either be natural sweeteners or the artificially made sweeteners. The sweeteners derived from natural products are caloric sweeteners and include fructose, sorbitol, xylitol, palatinose, and neosugar and are called Natural Sweeteners. Natural sweeteners are those sweeteners which occur in nature and may or may not be extracted for commercial use. e.g. Fructose from Fruits and Honey, Sucrose is extracted and refined from sugar cane or beets, Maltose is made by action of maltase on starch, Glucose is derived from grape sugar, Lactose obtained from milk sugar of mammals, Trehalose is the blood sugar of insects.

Attempts to provide sweetness for the diet have included modification of natural products and substitution of artificial agents such as aspartame, neotame, saccharin.

Artificial sweeteners are further divided into nutritive artificial sweetener and non-nutritive artificial sweetener. The nutritive artificial sweeteners contain calories while the non-nutritive do not contain calories (Jayaraj et al., 2018)

Saccharin is the first artificial sweetener to be discovered, it was discovered accidentally but a beneficial one, as were most artificial sweeteners. Constantine Fahlberg a scientist at John Hopkins university was working in the laboratory when a substance accidentally splashed on his finger, which he eventually licked and noticed that the substance had a sweet taste which he traced back to saccharin (Yadav et al., 2014)

Some artificial non-nutritive sweeteners are made from proteins, they are called Sweet Proteins. By combining two or more amino-acids, sweet proteins are made, an example is Aspartame. Aspartame is made from aspartic acid and phenyl-alanine, two very important amino-acids (Blackburn et al., 1997). Aspartame is effective in enhancing acid fruit flavours & extending sweet taste as in chewing gums

Global health organisation around the world, as well as The American Heart Association, american Diabetes Association and British Dietetic Association recorded that non-nutritive sweeteners with low or no calories are helpful for people suffering from diabetes, based on the fact that they have low caloric value or no caloric value makes it not to raise blood glucose level, also when used instead of sugar helps to lower carbohydrate intake (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

Some diabetic patients usually want to have a taste of something sweet but are scared to take sugars or something that has caloric value, sugars with caloric values are usually absorbed by the digestive systems which then produces the calories and can cause a spike in blood glucose level for diabetic patients, so it usually advisable for diabetic patients want to have a taste of sweet things to take non-nutritive sweeteners because they are not absorbed by the digestive system and produces low or no caloric value and hence do not cause a spike in the blood glucose level (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

Studies carried out by the American Diabetes Association discovered that consumption of non-nutritive sweetener is not associated with weight gain and it is helpful in weight management (American Diabetes Association, 2020).

Sucrose a disaccharide sugar made from one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose, sucrose also known as cane sugar is used as a standard reference for sweetness, all sweeteners and sugars are compared to sucrose which is the standard reference. For instance fructose is 140 times sweeter than sucrose, saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sucrose, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sucrose.

Sugars and sweeteners that are digested slowly and metabolised slowlyare called low glycemic index food, they are called the slow metabolisers reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes examples include, fructose, polyols (sorbitol, xylitol) (Modi et al., 2005). The fast metabolisers are digested very fast and are metabolised easily can cause powerful spikes in blood glucose, this high glycemic foods can increase one risk for type 2 diabetes examples include sucrose ( De Munter et al., 2007).

Sweeteners are beneficial to us in numerous ways, for example, Sweeteners such as xylitol are tooth friendly, they help to prevent plaque formation. Sweeteners also help to maintain blood glucose level which is needed for proper body and brain function. Artificial sweeteners are low in cost because of long shelf life and high sweetening intensity.

In conclusion, for someone trying to control blood sugar and/or lose weight, sweeteners can have a role as a sugar replacement. Numerous studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women. Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives.


American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Use of nutritive and Nonnutritive sweeteners. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004; 104(2):255-75.

Blackburn GL, Kanders BS, Lavin PT, Keller SD, Whatley J, (1997), The effect of aspartame as part of a multidisciplinary weight-control program on short- and longterm control of body weight. Am J Clin Nutr 65:409–18

Nowicka  Paulina, Bryngelsson, (2006); Sugars or sweeteners: towards guidelines for their use in practice _ report from an expert consultation, Scandinavian Journal of Food and Nutrition; 50 (2): 89 _96

Pramod Yadav. sugar substitutes & health . IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences (IOSRJDMS) Volume 13, Issue 8 Ver. III (Aug. 2014)

De Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, Van Dam RM (2007). Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review

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