The current South African legislation Relating to the Use of Sweeteners in Foodstuffs includes guidelines on the use of sugars (nutritive or energy-containing sweeteners, e.g. glucose syrup and sucrose), non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners (e.g. aspartame, saccharin), and sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol, xylitol) in foods.
The current 2011 Draft legislation on Relating to the Use of Sweeteners in Foodstuffs and Related matters suggests that ‘sweeteners’ as listed in the General Standard for Food Additives (GSFA) of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, may not be used in foods intended for infants and young children.
A sugar substitute (artificial sweetener) is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, but usually has less food energy. Sugar substitutes in various food and beverages are very popular in most of the countries. Besides its benefits, animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumours, bladder cancer and many other health hazards. Some health-related side effects including carcinogenicity are also noted in humans. A large number of studies have been carried out on these substances with conclusions ranging from “safe under all conditions” to “unsafe at any dose”. Scientists are divided in their views on the issue of artificial sweetener safety.
Extensive scientific research has demonstrated the safety of the six low-kilojoule sweeteners currently approved for use in foods in the U.S. and Europe(stevia, acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose) each with an acceptable daily intake. A number of studies have been carried out to confirm the safety of artificial sweeteners. A number of studies have also shown the adverse effects of the same. But most of the studies have limitations such as effects shown only in animals not in human, small sample size, high doses, statistically non-significant or borderline significant. The sugar substitutes are thoroughly investigated for safety with hundreds of scientific studies and then approved by different regulatory authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Some agents are approved with warning labels too. Further exploration is required with well-designed large-scale studies in the general population.
- Tandel KR. Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2011 Oct-Dec; 2(4): 236–243.
- The Regulations Relating to the Use of Sweeteners in Foodstuffs Published under Government Notice No. R. 3128 of 20 December 1991, as amended by Government Notice No. R.662 of 28 February 1992, Government Notice No. R.2064 of 2 December 1994 and Government Notice No. R.1568 of 28 November 1997 (Regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs published under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972).
- The Regulations Relating to the Use of Sweeteners in Foodstuffs and Related Matters as published under Government Notice No. R. 880 of 21 October 2011 (Regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs published under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act 54 of 1972).
Author: Megan Pentz-Kluyts (Registered Dietician)