Friday, June 22, 2018


Products with zero sugar in Gulf countries
Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Charu Gupta and Dhan Prakash
The Arab Gulf countries, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates have undergone a rapid change in their socio-economic situation, food consumption patterns, and lifestyle and health status during the past four decades. This was mainly caused by the sharp increase in income due to accumulated oil revenues. Communicable diseases have almost diminished and diet-related chronic diseases have become the main health problems. However, under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies still exist, especially among vulnerable groups. The action needed to promote healthy nutrition and a healthy lifestyle has been emphasised at several meetings in Arab Gulf countries.

Sugar is considered a carbohydrate and a source of energy. In general, all carbohydrates (except dietary fibre) are converted to sugars. Natural sugars are found in many foods such as milk, fruit, certain vegetables, bread, grains, and potatoes. Frequent intake of foods rich in added sugar, especially sweets, chocolates, and sugary drinks (such as soft drinks and canned juices) can contribute to tooth decay, unless the teeth are cleaned immediately after eating such foods. Evidence from many research studies suggests that the proportion of tooth decay increases with an increase in the intake of sugar per day. In order to combat teeth decay, one must reduce the intake of food rich in sugar, regularly clean one’s teeth, and use toothpaste containing fluoride. Overconsumption of food rich in sugar leads to an increase in energy intake, which contributes to an increase in one’s weight.

Low-calorie sweeteners (sometimes referred to as non-nutritive sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes) are ingredients added to foods and beverages to provide sweetness without adding a significant amount of calories. Their role in weight management is well known but their role in maintaining dental health is still hidden.

A new class of compounds called taste-active proteins functions as sweeteners and flavour modifiers and includes compounds such as aspartame, thaumatin and monellin. The gene which codes for the protein thaumatin has been isolated and characterised.

Categorisation of sweeteners
Low calorie sweeteners can be categorised into two groups: one group of sweeteners consists of substances with a very intense sweet taste that are used in minute amounts to replace the sweetness of a much larger amount of sugar, e.g. acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose. These sweeteners are produced by chemical methods and could only be used in reconstituted foods. Studies have shown that these synthetic sweeteners are not safe for use and possess undesirable after taste effects.

Second category of sweeteners includes sugar alcohols or the polyols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, erythritol, lactitol, and maltitol. There are other two sweeteners namely trehalose and tagatose are actually sugars rather than sugar alcohols yet they are similar in function to the polyols. These sweeteners are industrially being explored for their application as food ingredients such as sugar-free candies, cookies and chewing gum. Some of these substances such as sorbitol, xylitol and tagatose also occur naturally in certain fruits or other foods while some are produced by yeast, fungi and bacteria. These sweeteners can either be directly added to foods, or use of these sweeteners-producing microorganisms can lead to natural foods containing these sweeteners.

Advantages of polyols and bulk sweeteners over sugar as food ingredients
1) Natural low calorie sweeteners do not promote the development of dental caries (tooth decay) and do not lower plaque pH in the mouth below 5.7 during consumption or upto 30 minutes afterward.
2) They produce a low glycemic response than most sugars and starches and hence advantageous for diabetic patients.
3) They have low calorific values due to poor digestion and poor absorption.

Standard sweetener
Sorbitol is a 6-carbon sugar alcohol, with a relative sweetness of about 60% compared to that of sucrose, is most commonly used polyol in the United States and Gulf countries. It is used as a standard sweetener in several sugar-free chewing gums. Sorbitol, also known as D-glucitol, is naturally-found in many fruits, like berries, cherries and apples. Sorbitol is sweet tasting, forms a viscous solution, stabilises moisture, possesses bacteriostatic property and is generally chemically inert. It is freely soluble in water and acetic acid, ethanol and methanol. It is insoluble in common organic solvent. Sorbitol is used in modern cosmetics as a humectant and thickener. It is also used as a cryo-protectant additive (mixed with sucrose and sodium polyphosphates) in the manufacture of surimi, a highly refined uncooked fish paste most commonly produced from Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma).

Sorbitol, together with other polyhydric alcohols such as glycerol, is one of the ingredients in alkyl resins and rigid polyurethane foams manufacturing. It is widely used in a range of food products such as confectionery, chewing gums, candy, desserts, ice cream and diabetic foods. It imparts sweetness and plays technological roles of that of a humectant, texturiser and softener.

Sorbitol finds uses in medication as a laxative to treat constipation. Vitamin C is mainly synthesised from sorbitol by fermentation process by Bacillus suboxydant. Sorbitol  promotes the absorption of certain minerals such as Cs, Sr, F and vitamin B12. It also possesses antioxidant properties. At present sorbitol is produced chemically. The industrial production of sorbitol is traditionally performed by catalytic hydrogenation of D-glucose syrup at a concentration of about 50% (w/v). However, the microbial production of sorbitol is possible.

D-tagatose is an isomer of fructose that occurs naturally in some dairy products. It is metabolised differently as compared to sugar providing fewer calories and producing a smaller glycemic response. Tagatose is derived from lactose, the sugar found in milk. It is involved in browning reactions during heat treatment and decomposes more readily than sucrose at high temperatures. Tagatose is a functional sweetener and is very similar in texture to sucrose and is 92% as sweet, but with only 38% of the calories.

D-tagatose is a mal-absorbing sugar as it is poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Its unabsorbed fraction is completely fermented by the intestinal microflora in intestine and the formed short-chain fatty acids are quickly absorbed and metabolised. D-tagatose has sucrose like taste with no cooling effect or after taste. It is similar to the polyols in having a low calorific value and tooth-friendly property. However, it has no laxative effect unlike polyols.

Although similar to sucrose in taste, it does not contribute to net energy as revealed by a number of growth studies on rats. D-tagatose has sucrose like taste with no cooling effect or after taste. It is similar to the polyols in having a low calorific value and tooth-friendly property. However, it has no laxative effect unlike polyols. D-tagatose is considered to be a potential reduced-energy sweetener and therefore used as low-calorie sweetener. It is also used as an intermediate for synthesis of other optically active compounds, as an additive in detergent, cosmetic and pharmaceutical formulations.

It is used in the promotion of weightloss, antiplaque, non-cariogenic, anti-halitosis, prebiotic, and antibio-film properties, organ transplants, improvement of pregnancy and fetal development, treatment of obesity, reduction in symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, hyperglycaemia, anaemia and hemophilia.

Above all, it is widely recommended to make physical activity a part of our daily routine.

Studies in the Arab Gulf countries indicate a serious decline in physical activity especially among women and adults and that these communities tend to be sedentary. It was shown that inactivity is one of the main factors contributing to high prevalence of obesity in the region and those children and adolescents have become less active.
To conclude, the authors recommend that physical activity and maintenance of optimum weight are two important issues for good health and both can benefit one’s health in different ways.

1. Abdulrahman O. Musaiger, Hamed R. Takruri, Abdelmonem S. Hassan, and Hamza Abu-Tarboush, “Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for the Arab Gulf Countries,” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol. 2012, Article ID 905303, 10 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/905303
2. Gupta, C., Prakash, D., Gupta, S. and Goyal, S. (2012). Role of low calorie sweeteners in maintaining dental health. Middle- East Journal of Scientific Research 11(3): 342-346.

(The authors are from Amity Institute for Herbal Research & Studies, Amity University, UP. They can be contacted at
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