A sugar crystal close up on black background under the light microscope with a magnification of 40 times
If you're trying to shed some extra pounds or—heaven forbid—have diabetes, you're probably familiar with artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Many foods, from baked goods to yogurt to various drinks and chewing gum, labeled "diet" or "sugar-free" contain artificial sweeteners. They're not unavoidable in some sports nutrition supplements either. No wonder, because they have great properties—they are sweeter than sugar and have no calories. But they are also one of the most controversial substances in the food industry. For example, how much truth is there in the idea that artificial sweeteners are carcinogenic? Why do we use sucralose in Mana? And could it be omitted? Read on to find out more.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substitutes for conventional natural sugar, mainly produced from sugar beet and sugar cane. Their main advantage is their several times higher sweetness compared to regular sugar. In practice, this means that compared to sugar, you only need to use a much smaller amount for the same sweetening effect, and without the extra calories. Our digestive tract is then usually unable to absorb them, which is why they have zero energy value. Moreover, artificial sweeteners do not contribute to tooth decay.
In the European Union, all artificial sweeteners undergo a thorough health assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before they are used. The latter also sets the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which indicates the safe amount of the sweetener for daily consumption.
General overview of the most common artificial sweeteners
Saccharin: Artificial sweeteners were discovered accidentally as by-products and intermediates in the formation of other substances. Saccharin was discovered as the very first artificial sweetener in 1897. The use of saccharin became widespread due to sugar shortages during World War I. In addition, there was no competition and it was inexpensive. However, its metallic, bitter aftertaste is unpleasant. In experimental animals, the use of higher doses of saccharin has been linked to bladder tumors. Saccharin is 200-700 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Acesulfame potassium: This sweetener has a bitter taste, which is why it is most often used in combination with other sweeteners (such as aspartame), for example in soft drinks. It has the advantage of being resistant to high temperatures and acidic environments. This makes it suitable for addition to baked dishes and foods requiring a long shelf life. Acesulfame potassium is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Aspartame: A dipeptide composed of amino acids that are commonly found in our food and in the proteins of our body. It is therefore used in sweetened drinks, chewing gum, but also in frozen desserts. It tastes similar to sugar and has no aftertaste, but is not very heat stable. Aspartame is the most controversial artificial sweetener in terms of health safety. According to some research, it causes brain cancer and brain cell death. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Cyclamates: The final product is in the form of a sodium or calcium salt. It is one of the oldest sweeteners. Due to its relatively low sweetening power, it has been used less and less recently. Cyclamate is 30-50 times sweeter than regular sugar.
NHDC: Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone is an artificial sweetener that is used not only to enhance flavour and aroma, but also to mask the bitter taste of certain ingredients. Unlike aspartame, it is thermostable and no negative health effects have been demonstrated. NHDC is about 950-1800 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Sucralose: It is produced by a several-step treatment of ordinary beet sugar, but unlike beet sugar it has almost no energy value, is not stored in adipose tissue and is completely eliminated from the body without structural changes. In addition, it is characterized by its high stability. It has been an approved sweetener in the EU since 2004. In addition, in 2016, EFSA also approved the use of sucralose in foods for special medical purposes in the case of the nutrition of young children under 3 years of age. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar.
Why do we use sucralose in Mana?
First of all, it is important to note that sucralose is considered one of the safest artificial sweeteners by the official institutions FDA (Food and Drug Administration), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization). As the only sweetener, it is suitable for children, pregnant women and diabetics.
Mana is 99.5% composed of natural plant ingredients. It is a nutritionally balanced food that contains a record 42 essential nutrients to ensure that it provides the body with all the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs—and in the right amounts. These ingredients need to be taste-matched, as some of the ingredients are characterized by bitterness, for example—in Mana, these are mainly protein sources such as soya, pea, rice or algae protein (which is why the majority of protein supplements for athletes contain sucralose). That's why we use sucralose in Mana, which can create a pleasant, slightly sweet taste in a minimal amount that doesn't linger in the mouth long after consumption.
Since sucralose contains no calories, it does not increase the overall glycemic index of Mana. According to our own clinical study carried out in cooperation with the Charles University and the Královské Vinohrady Hospital, Mana has a low glycaemic index of 29. Foods with a low glycemic index help to regulate not only blood sugar levels but also blood cholesterol (including the so-called bad LDL cholesterol), possibly promoting short-term weight loss.
But back to sweeteners. In the development of Mana, we have historically tried a variety of sweeteners, including natural ones such as xylitol or the well-known stevia, but none of them convinced us with their taste and properties. Xylitol, for example, has a laxative effect—making it unsuitable for long-term use of Mana. Stevia has about half the sweetness of sucralose. In addition, natural sweeteners often introduce an unusual and prolonged sweetness to the taste, which is undesirable with long-term use. This is also why sucralose is the most viable solution.
The sucralose content of Mana is completely negligible. According to the FDA, the daily safe dose of sucralose is 5 mg per kg of body weight, according to EFSA it is even 15 mg per kg of body weight.
Model situation: for a 60 kg individual, the EFSA considers a safe dose of up to 900 mg of sucralose per day. In comparison, a daily dose of ManaPowder—i.e. 5 standard servings—contains up to 30 times less sucralose and a daily dose of ManaDrinks—i.e. 6 drinks—up to 50 times less than the safe limit. The main reason for including sucralose in Mana is the aforementioned balancing of the flavours of the ingredients, not necessarily sweetening of the Mana.
In 2019, the BfR (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment) published a study according to which sucralose can produce potentially harmful—even carcinogenic—compounds when heated above 100°C after just 1 hour. This study caused a great stir, as the scientists recommended that sucralose used in the food industry should preferably not be heated at all.
However, this does not apply to our products at all. With ManaPowder we can eliminate the risk of thermal decomposition of sucralose because it does not heat up at all during production. The preparation itself is also risk-free, as the powder is prepared by mixing it with cold or room temperature water.
ManaDrink is very similar in composition to ManaPowder. It is basically a powder that is homogenized with water and antimicrobially treated using UHT (ultra-high temperature) technology to make the food last for at least 12 months from production. However, the UHT technology also poses no risk. Although ManaDrink is heated to about 135 °C, it is only heated for 1-2 seconds and in an aqueous environment. This is so-called shock heating for a very short period of time, which falls far short of the effects described in the BfR study (heating above 100°C for at least 1 hour).
Other facts and important background
Sucralose and its impact on the human body has been the subject of many clinical studies. The problem is that most studies assess the application of sucralose alone as an isolated ingredient and not in combination with other nutrients. Thus, for studies on, for example, the negative effect of sucralose on the gut microbiome, we do not know what the effect would be if sucralose were administered long-term with a full spectrum of nutrients (just like in Mana), i.e. in combination with, for example, fibre.
Fibre in particular has been shown (amongst other effects, which you can read about here) to significantly support the growth of a healthy gut microbiome. The latest Mark 7 recipe contains 8 sources of fibre and in 1 serving of ManaPowder, it provides your body with 4g of soluble and 3g of insoluble fibre. In the case of one ManaDrink, 3.3g of soluble and 1.1g of insoluble fibre. It is therefore important to look at Mana as a whole, to consider the individual ingredients, but also to assess how the ingredients work in combination with other ingredients.
As for the still alleged carcinogenicity of sucralose, studies on carcinogenicity have been refuted several times. The FDA evaluated over 110 human and animal studies when approving sucralose in 2016 and found no toxic, carcinogenic or neurological effects.
Yes, we hear you! We know that some of you want Mana without any sweeteners. But the truth is that Mana without sweetener is not palatable. But we are looking for new ways. A number of some new sweeteners, extracts of tropical plants, are showing great promise and are coming out positive in our tests. However, we cannot use these raw materials because they are not yet permitted by European legislation. However, they are currently undergoing approval processes at EU level and we firmly believe that we will soon introduce them—and be among the first on the market—as a breakthrough innovation.
Sweetener-free Mana is our long-term goal. At the same time, we also aim to provide the most complete product possible—both nutritionally and in terms of taste. With the alternatives available, we always end up reducing the quality of the final product, not only in terms of taste but also in terms of the nutritional profile. At the moment, sucralose is the most suitable solution for Mana.
Sucralose is considered one of the safest artificial sweeteners on the market, it does not affect glucose metabolism or insulin levels and has the best taste characteristics. However, as we have already mentioned, this does not change the fact that we continue to look for alternatives to move Mana from a 99.5% natural product to a 100% natural product.Sources:
 Susan Carlson, PhD (2019) Notice to US Food and Drug Administration of the Conclusion that the Intended Use of Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone is Generally Recognized as Safe.
 FDA (2018) Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States.
 EFSA Journal (2017) Statement on the validity of the conclusions of a mouse carcinogenicity study on sucralose (E 955) performed by the Ramazzini Institute.
 Andreas Eisenreich, Rainer Gürtler (2020) Heating of food containing sucralose might result in the generation of potentially toxic chlorinated compounds.
 Samar Y Ahmad. (2019) The effect of the artificial sweeteners on glucose metabolism in healthy adults: a randomized, double-blinded, crossover clinical trial.
 Colin Berry, David Brusick (2016) Sucralose Non-Carcinogenicity: A Review of the Scientific and Regulatory Rationale
 BfR (2019) Harmful compounds might be formed when foods containing the sweetener Sucralose are heated.
 Food Science And Technology (1993)
Introduction to Food Toxicology.
 Bezpečnost Potravin, Ministerstvo zemědělství