Natural sweeteners (polyols) are obtained from natural products such as vegetables, fruits, plants and fermented foods. These polyols have a lower sweetening power than sugar and also contain fewer calories (2.4 kcal/g compared to 4 kcal/g). In addition, the carbohydrates in polyols are hardly or not at all absorbed by the body. They are only digested in the intestinal flora or leave the body unchanged through the urine.
Below you will find an overview of the most common natural sweeteners.
Erythritol is obtained from corn and has a sweetness of 70 to 80 percent compared to regular sugar. This natural sugar substitute is the only polyol that contains no calories. In addition, the carbohydrates cannot be absorbed by the body, thus keeping the blood sugar level stable. This makes erythritol the most suitable sugar substitute for diabetics, people following a low-carbohydrate diet or just anyone who wants to limit their sugar consumption. Erythritol has a fine crystal structure and is a perfect substitute for sugar. It is also very suitable for cooking and baking, given its reliable quality up to 200°C.
Xylitol is the only polyol whose sweetening power is equal to the sweetening power of sugar. This sugar substitute is obtained from the fibres of fruit and vegetables and has 40% fewer calories compared to regular sugar. It’s ideal for reducing the amount of sugar and calories in sweets, for example. Despite the natural origin of xylitol, it is mainly produced industrially nowadays due to its high cost.
Mannitol has a sweetening power of 70% compared to sugar and contains about 40% fewer calories than sugar. The structure of this polyol keeps foods from drying out and is also used as a filler and anti-caking agent for medicines. Because of these properties, mannitol is not only used for sweets, baking products and medicines, but also for infant and toddler nutrition.
Isomalt is about half as sweet as sugar and, like most polyols, contains about 2.4 calories per gram. Isomalt is widely used among bakers because the polyol has better baking properties than sugar. For example, the sweetener breaks down less quickly at high temperatures, has a preservative effect and it gives the end product a nice shine.
Sorbitol is about half as sweet as sugar and also contains 2.4 calories per gram. Sorbitol has a preservative effect and absorbs water well. This gives the foods it is used for a syrupy and creamy texture. Sorbitol is very popular in pastries, sweets, jams and desserts for a reason.
Tagatose is not a polyol. During the breakdown of lactose (milk sugar), glucose and galactose are formed. Galactose is then converted into tagatose by enzymes. Tagatose has a sweetening power of 92% compared to sugar, but contains a lot less calories (1.5 kcal/g compared to 4 kcal/g). Despite its natural origin, tagatose is often mixed with synthetic sweeteners due to its high production costs.
Tagatesse is the source of the tagatose mentioned above. Tagatesse consists of 40% tagatose, 40% isomalt and 20% fibre.
Stevia is an exception in the line of polyols because it is the only natural sweetener with an extremely high sweetening power, compared to sugar. The leaves of the stevia plant contain a number of very sweet particles, called steviol glycosides. Rebaudioside A (Reb. A) is the purest steviol glycoside. The stevia leaf itself is 15 to 20 times sweeter than regular sugar, while the steviol glycosides extracted from the stevia leaf are 100 to 500 times sweeter than regular sugar. Stevia contains zero calories or carbohydrates and therefore has no effect on blood sugar levels.
Sanne van Erp, dietitian at Green Sweet