Food authority issues warning over low-cal sweetener

Related tags Arla food ingredients Sugar Carbohydrate Glucose

The Australian food watchdog has issued a warning over a low-cal
sweetener that could harm consumers who are intolerant to the fruit
sugar fructose, advising these people to avoid the novel food
ingredient tagatose, produced by Arla Food Ingredients, which hit
supermarket shelves last month, writes Lindsey Partos.

Recently approved by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) the tooth-friendly sugar replacer, manufactured and commercialised the world over by milk-based ingredients supplier Arla Food Ingredients, only entered the Australian and New Zealand markets in May. Arla farmed out the rights for distribution for the two countries to fellow ingredients firm Nutrinova.

"It is safe for the general population but, because tagatose is metabolised in the same way as fructose, FSANZ considers that foods containing tagatose would not be suitable for people who are fructose intolerant,"​ warned FSANZ's chief medical adviser, Dr Bob Boyd yesterday.

Fructose is a naturally-occuring fruit sugar and about one in 20,000 people in Europe may have fructose intolerance where they have an absence of enzymes in the body which digest the fructose, used as a sweetener in foods and beverages. Such individuals are also unable to tolerate sucrose - table sugar - which is broken down in the gut to glucose and fructose.

"To our knowledge this is the first time authorities have warned against tagatose for fructose intolerant people,"​ a spokesperson for Arla Food Ingredients, licensee of tagatose since 1996 told​.

But Arla said the warning was not totally surprising because, although not scientifically proven, the company itself warns authorities when applying for market rights that tagatose could pose a problem for fructose-intolerant consumers due to the structure of the ingredient.

"One reason why other authorities have not issued the warning might be because in food and drink formulations the product is used in combination with other sugars. So people who are fructose intolerant know to avoid the sugars,"​ added the spokesperson.

Tagatose occurs naturally at low levels in the gum from Sterculia setigera​ (an evergreen tree), as well as heated cow's milk and other dairy products.

The sweetener, sold under the brand name Gaio tagatose, is used for food and beverage formulations such as breakfast cereals, carbonated and non-carbonated diet soft drinks, low fat/fat free ice cream and frozen dairy desserts, diet and health bars, diet soft confectionery, chewing gum and special purpose foods/meal replacements.

Following approval in Australia and New Zealand for this increasingly popular low-cal, prebiotic ingredient invented by US firm Spherix, in May this year Arla Food Ingredients farmed out the rights for distribution for the two countries to ingredients firm Nutrinova.

Terms of the recent deal with Nutrinova were not disclosed but the move will bite into Arla's share of the recently cleared market in Australia and New Zealand. But shipping the distribution deal out will give Arla the space to concentrate on other growing markets, notably the US.

The tooth-friendly ingredient entered the Australian and New Zealand markets for the first time through the formulation of a new range of chocolate products by Miada Sports Nutrition of New Zealand. The firm introduced a line of chocolates, called Miada ChocoLite, that contain tagatose and are due to hit supermarket shelves in New Zealand and Australia in mid-2004.

"This event marks the commercial introduction of Spherix's low-calorie, low- glycaemic, and low-carb sweetener to the Pacific Rim, the first market outside the United States in making its way into the world market,"​ said Spherix at the time.

Last month the same New Zealand firm announced plans to expand tagatose use, developing and marketing a new line of carbonated, energy and diet drinks and protein bars, flavour-enhanced with Gaio tagatose, under its product line brand named 'Whoop Ass'.

In the US, tagatose continues to build on its market position through direct contact with the consumer. The Danish firm can now see its tagatose sweetener emblazoned on the packaging of a new range of juices in the US, including supermarket titan WalMart. In addition, both inventor and distributor are looking to cash in on the growing low carbohydrate fad.

With the low-carbohydrate market currently soaring in the US, Arla Food Ingredients and Spherix are expecting strong growth for their low-carb sweetener.

"It is very exciting to hear that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail chain, will carry these new products,"​ Thomas W. Gantt, Spherix's CEO said recently.

The Pasco Beverage company's newly launched Light & Tasty juices that contain the tooth-friendly sweetener and bear the Gaio tagatose logo will be carried by WalMart as well as other retailers.

According to Spherix, the juices combine tagatose and the high intensity sweetener sucralose, and contain 45 per cent fewer calories and up to 70 per cent fewer carbohydrates than ordinary juice.

And pushing the weight-loss advantages, Arla recently reported on a new study by Australian scientists that confirmed tagatose's low glycaemic (GI) response, an index increasingly used by dieters as a form of carbohydrate control. The GI is a numerical system of measuring how fast a food or ingredient triggers a rise in circulating blood glucose; the higher the GI, the greater the blood sugar response. A low GI food will cause a small rise in blood sugar levels, whereas a higher GI food may trigger a large increase.

"These results, well below that of competing sweeteners, may make foods and beverages with tagatose even more attractive to a weight-conscious public that increasingly embraces lowering carbohydrates to lose weight,"​ said Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, executive officer for science at Spherix.

According to Spherix, the university stated that, compared to glucose, which had glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of 100 per cent, Gaio tagatose produced very low glycaemic and insulinaemic responses of only 3 per cent.

In October 2003 the European Commission gave the thumbs up to a joint venture between Danish/Swedish company Arla Foods Ingredients and German sugar giant Nordzucker, to bring tagatose to the marketplace.

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