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Food and Nutrition

Sugar Substitutes

In Canada, food additives such as sugar substitutes, which cover both artificial sweeteners and intense sweeteners obtained from natural sources, are subject to rigorous controls under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. New food additives (or new uses of permitted food additives) are only permitted once a safety assessment has been conducted and regulatory amendments have been enacted.

Several sugar substitutes have been approved for use in Canada. These include acesulfame-potassium, polydextrose, sucralose, thaumatin and sugar alcohols (polyols) like sorbitol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol and xylitol.

Aspartame

Aspartame, a low-calorie artificial sweetener, has been permitted for use as a food additive in Canada since 1981. It is used in a number of foods including soft drinks, desserts, breakfast cereals and chewing gum. It is also available as a table-top sweetener.

Saccharin

Saccharin is a man-made sweetener that is used in food products in many countries. In the 1970s, scientific studies raised concerns that saccharin could be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in laboratory rats. As a result of these studies, saccharin was not permitted as a food additive in Canada, although restricted use of saccharin as a table-top sweetener has been allowed. Since that time, further studies have revealed that the carcinogenic effect of saccharin in rats does not have the same effect on humans. Health Canada's scientists have thoroughly reviewed the scientific information available and as a result are considering re-listing saccharin in the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations to allow its use as a sweetener in certain foods.

Sugar Alcohols (Polyols) & Polydextrose

Sugar alcohols are a family of sweetening agents also known as "polyols". They occur naturally in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, but for large-scale commercial use they are manufactured from common sugars. Polydextrose is a compound synthesized from dextrose (glucose) that adds texture to food without adding sweetness.

Health Canada scientists have studied the human health effects of these compounds and have concluded that the addition of sugar alcohols and/or polydextrose to foods is safe.

Stevia and Steviol Glycosides

The term stevia refers to the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. The leaves of the stevia plant, which can be used fresh, dried, or dried and powdered, contain sweetening compounds referred to as steviol glycosides. The term stevia is also used to refer to water extracts of stevia leaf. These crude extracts have not undergone purification steps to concentrate the steviol glycoside content.

Purified stevia extract, however, is prepared in a manner that results in a highly concentrated (minimum 95%) extract of steviol glycosides. Purified stevia extract is also referred to as "steviol glycosides". If the extract has been purified in a manner that favours one of the nine known steviol glycosides, the extract may be referred to by the name of the isolated steviol glycoside (e.g., rebaudioside A).

Regulatory status of stevia and its extracts as a sweetening ingredient in foods

Stevia leaf and its crude extracts are not considered to be food additives or novel foods but are considered as food ingredients. For this reason, there is no mandatory requirement for their review and approval prior to use in food. Stevia leaves (fresh, dried or powdered) and crude extracts of stevia leaves have been available in Canada to those wishing to use these products for personal culinary use only. However, Health Canada has not been able to provide a definitive opinion on the safety of retail foods containing stevia leaf because the available scientific data on its safety is considered incomplete. The safety of any retail food containing either stevia leaves or crude stevia extract is the legal responsibility of the food seller. However, stevia leaves along with its crude extracts have been approved by Health Canada for use both as non-medicinal ingredients, and as medicinal ingredients, in certain natural health products.

Purified stevia extract is regulated as a food additive in Canada. It has undergone a full safety review and has been approved for use in various foods sold in Canada. The conditions of use for purified stevia extracts are found under "steviol glycosides" on the List of Permitted Sweeteners.

On November 30, 2012 Health Canada's Food Directorate modified the List of Permitted Sweeteners to enable the use of steviol glycosides as a sweetener in certain food categories. For more information on steviol glycosides (stevia) and its permitted uses, please see the Notice of Modification to the List of Permitted Sweeteners to Enable the Use of Steviol Glycosides as a Table-Top Sweetener and as a Sweetener in Certain Food Categories.