Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

SUSTA: A “Natural” Sweetener

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SUSTA  ™– a relatively new to the “natural” sweetener market has recently appeared in some supermarkets in the U.S. SUSTA is currently being sold as a stand-alone sweetener in a 50-packet box and as a yogurt smoothie under the Healthy Dairy brand name.  SUSTA also announced the launch of a baking version of the sweetener called SUSTA Bowl.

It sounds wonderful – how could one pass on this list of “health” benefits on the package:

  • Supports Digestive and Immune Health
  • A Low Glycemic Index Food
  • Aids in Weight Management
  • Avoids sugar shock
  • Heart Healthy
  • Good for Bones and Teeth

At first glance, the Nutrition Facts Panel appears to be better than it really is – lots of vitamins and minerals, but in such tiny amounts that probably would not contribute much to your daily intake.  For example, the Daily Value for niacin is 16.0 mg.  Susta gives you 3% DV in a serving which adds up to only 0.48 mg – not very impressive.  The same goes for most of the rest of the nutrients added.  Another puzzle is why biotin is there – a deficiency is rare unless you eat a lot of raw egg whites (not recommended).

This “natural” sweetener appears to have a great marketing strategy, but I wonder how strong the claims are.  The manufacturer’s slogan says: SUSTA: Turns Calories into Healthy Energy.  What does that mean?

When it comes to the ingredients, inulin and fructose comprise the top two.   A probiotic (Bacillus coagulans) is fourth. When I searched these bacteria, WebMD states: “There is not enough information to know if Bacillus coagulans is safe to use. This product has not been studied in people. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should stay on the safe side and avoid using Bacillus coagulans.” However, read the related article for more on this particular probiotic.  I am not familiar with it.

What exactly is inulin?  Inulin, increasingly added to processed foods can be a problem in causing gastrointestinal discomfort for some people who are consuming too much of it.  Many food manufacturers are adding fibers, including inulin into chocolate bars, ice cream, and other popular snack foods to make up our lack of meeting fiber recommendations (25-35 g/day).

Inulin is a carbohydrate fiber that occurs naturally in many foods like bananas, wheat, onions and garlic. Found in high concentrations in chicory root, is can be extracted for commercial use. Inulin like most fibers passes through the small intestine to the colon and is fermented by bacteria.  As a prebiotic, it stimulates the growth of  “friendly“ bacteria. In some people it can cause gas, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.

Because of its growing popularity as a food additive, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2010; 110:865-868), investigated gastrointestinal tolerance of two commonly used inulin products (native inulin and shorter-chain oligofructose) at two dosage levels (5 and 10 grams).  Oligofructose is actually a derivative of inulin.  While inulin has basically no taste, oligofructose has a mildly sweet taste. Inulin and oligofructose are both great food additives, because they are a carbohydrate that does not raise blood sugar or generate an insulin response.  Inulin and oligofructose are different, but chemically similar. Some people are sensitive to one versus the other, some to both, others to none.

The study participants involved 25 healthy men and women aged 18 to 60.  They had no history of gastrointestinal problems and were fed fiber breakfasts consisting of a bagel, cream cheese, and orange juice.  Inulin doses or a placebo were mixed in the orange juice.

After these challenges, the subjects were contacted by phone for two days to determine is any gastrointestinal symptoms occurred. Any dose of inulin caused “mild symptoms” with the highest scores reported in all symptoms with the 10 grams of oligofructose.  The shorter chain product causes faster fermentation in the gut, which may lead to more GI symptoms.

Flatulence was the most common symptom reported by all subjects who got fiber although symptoms were “highly variable” among individuals and many subjects did not experience any, the investigators said.

The authors concluded based on their study, that most healthy people could tolerate up to 10 grams of native inulin and 5 grams of the “sweet” inulin a day.  The manufacturer states that each SUSTA serving (2 grams) contains ½ gram of fructose with most of the rest as inulin. For the SUSTA BOWL, each serving of 3 grams contains about ½ gram of fructose with the rest as inulin,  Since SUSTA BOWL is used in baking, more is probably used at a time.

One study evaluated the GI effects of low-digestible carbohydrates, including both sugar alcohols and fibers. Tolerance for resistant starch and polydextrose was high even at doses of greater than 50 grams a day.  In contrast, inulin tolerance was closer to 10-15 grams a day.  As more and more food manufacturers add nonfibrous and good-tasting fibers to foods, there is a potential for overuse. It is recommended by some to avoid inulin if you suffer from IBS, yeast infections or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Watch for the next post on more effects of the second ingredient in SUSTA –  fructose.

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One thought on “SUSTA: A “Natural” Sweetener

  1. Pingback: Organic Food Fad « Recipes for Health

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