Isomalt is an excellent tasting sugar-free sweetener. Products made with isomalt have the same texture and appearance as those made with sugar. Derived from sugar, isomalt's health benefits and stability make it a versatile and valuable ingredient for numerous reduced-calorie foods and pharmaceuticals.
Isomalt is a unique, excellent tasting sugar-free sweetener. Because the same amount of isomalt is used in products as would be used if they were sweetened with sugar, isomalt-containing products have the same appearance and texture as those made with sugar.
Discovered in the 1960s, isomalt is made from sucrose and looks much like table sugar. It is white, crystalline and odorless. Isomalt is a mixture of two disaccharide alcohols—gluco mannitol and gluco sorbitol.
Isomalt has been used in the United States for several years in products such as hard candies, toffee, lollipops, fudge, wafers, cough drops and throat lozenges. It has been available in Europe, however, since the early 1980s and is currently used in a wide variety of products in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Isomalt offers benefits that fit changing life-styles and contemporary guidelines for healthful diets. It expands food choices for the growing number of people who will make moderate, but not extreme, improvements in their diet. It is ideal for consumers who will adopt a healthier lifestyle, as long as foods still taste good.
Because of its lower calorie value and other health benefits, isomalt is useful for people who are trying to moderately reduce their total energy intake while still being able to occasionally enjoy their favorite desserts, candy, and other sweetened foods as part of meals and snacks.Isomalt
How Isomalt Is Made
The two-step process begins with sucrose. First, an enzyme rearranges the linkage between glucose and fructose in sucrose. In the second step, two hydrogens are added to an oxygen in the fructose portion of the disaccharide. Approximately half of the fructose portion of the original disaccharide is converted to mannitol and about half of the fructose portion of the original disaccharide is converted to sorbitol. Therefore, isomalt contains two different disaccharide alcohols—gluco-mannitol and gluco-sorbitol.
The molecular changes that occur in these steps cause isomalt to be more stable, chemically and enzymatically, than sucrose. Isomalt’s stability explains many of its health benefits and the large variety of products which it can improve.
How Isomalt Is Used
Besides the characteristics that result from isomalt’s providing volume and texture, isomalt can be heated without losing its sweetness or being broken down. Therefore, it is used in products that are boiled, baked or subjected to higher temperatures.
Isomalt absorbs very little water. Therefore, products made with it tend not to be sticky. This means, for example, that small items such as candies can be put into a package without each being wrapped separately, an appealing attribute for environmentally conscious consumers. Another advantage, which results from this property, is that, since products do not absorb moisture, their shelf life is extended.
Isomalt enhances flavor transfer in foods, dissolves in the mouth and does not have the “cooling” effect characteristic of some other polyols. Its sensory properties make isomalt an excellent ingredient for candies, chocolates, baked products and flavored applications such as fruit, coffee and chocolate.
Isomalt’s sweetening power depends on its concentration, temperature and the form of the product in which it is used. When used alone, it contributes 45% to 65% of the sweetness that would result from the same amount of sucrose.
Multiple Ingredient Usage
Isomalt is often used in combination with intense sweeteners. Isomalt gives products bulk, texture and mild sweetness; the intense sweetener brings the level of sweetness up to what would occur if sugar were used. An additional advantage of such combination usage is that isomalt tends to mask the bitter aftertaste of some intense sweeteners. Synergistic effects in sweetening power occur when isomalt is combined with either intense sweeteners or other volume providing sweeteners.
How The Body Uses Isomalt
Isomalt, like all polyols, is a low digestible carbohydrate which is only partially digested in the intestines. In the lower part of the intestinal tract, some of the non-absorbed portion is metabolized by colonic bacteria. These normal physiologic processes, which may sometimes in some people cause softer stools or more intestinal gas than usual, are similar to how the body responds to high-fiber foods, beans and prunes.
A person’s response to low digestible carbohydrates, including isomalt, varies depending on the individual and factors such as one’s total diet, how much and when this type of carbohydrate is consumed. The few people who might be sensitive usually have no problem if they start with small portions and gradually increase their consumption of low digestible carbohydrates.
Lower Caloric Value
For food labeling purposes in the United States, an energy value of 2 calories per gram is used for isomalt. Isomalt's lower caloric value is partly due to the fact that intestinal enzymes are not able to easily hydrolyze its more stable disaccharide bond. Less of it is digested and, therefore, less absorbed from the small intestine into the blood, and this happens slowly.
Less Dental Caries Risk
Isomalt does not promote dental caries because oral bacteria cannot readily convert it into decay causing acids. Therefore, the acidic conditions that lead to tooth demineralization do not develop after consuming isomalt, as occurs after eating sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates. Furthermore, isomalt cannot be converted by oral bacteria into polyglucan, the substance from which dental plaque is synthesized.
Isomalt can help repair early dental caries lesions. Its sweet taste stimulates the production of saliva, thus reducing acidity and increasing calcium levels at the tooth surface. These changes facilitate remineralization of areas previously damaged by acidic conditions in the mouth due to fermentable carbohydrate consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers of sugar-free isomalt-containing products to make the health claim, “Does not promote dental caries,” if those products do not reduce plaque pH to less than 5.7 during or for up to 30 minutes after consumption.
The American Dental Association has recognized the usefulness of polyols, including isomalt, as alternatives to sugars and as part of a comprehensive program including proper dental hygiene.
Advantages For People with Diabetes
A major goal of dietary planning for people with diabetes is maintenance of blood glucose at levels as near as possible to normal. The 1994 nutrition principles of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) conclude that the use of sucrose as part of the meal plan does not impair blood glucose control. The authors of the ADA principles note, however, that common sugar alcohols or polyols have a lower glycemic response than sucrose and other carbohydrates.
Extensive research has been conducted on the effect of isomalt on blood glucose and insulin levels. This research shows that, after ingestion of isomalt, blood glucose and insulin values do not differ significantly from baseline levels in people who have either Type I or Type II diabetes.
A petition to affirm the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status of isomalt has been accepted for filing by the FDA. Isomalt has been used in the United States since 1990.
The World Health Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) evaluated the safety of isomalt and concluded that there is no need for a numeric (limited) acceptable daily intake (ADI). JEFCA established an ADI for isomalt of “not specified,” the safest category in which JECFA can place a food ingredient.
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