When we want to use a natural no calorie sweetener, we have had only a Hobson’s choice. Until now.
But about two weeks ago another natural no calorie sweetener began to be available in supermarkets and supercenters like Wal-Mart and Target. This new sweetener is ready to challenge stevia, which previously had been our only such choice. Nectresse (pronounced neck-TRESS) is the name of the new sweetener.
I have started using Nectresse myself, and while I have a few reservations about it, this new sweetener promises to be big. It comes from McNeil Nutritionals, which also markets Splenda, the nation’s top selling low calorie sweetener.
Another reason why I’m sure that Nectresse will be big is the marketing muscle behind McNeil Nutritionals. This rather low-profile company is one of about 230 subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson. Another J&J subsidiary that many of us are familiar with is LifeScan, which makes the OneTouch meters and test strips that many people with diabetes use.
But McNeil Nutritionals’ flagship brand, Splenda, is artificial, while Nectresse has nothing but natural ingredients. McNeil Nutritionals says that Nectresse “derives its natural sweetness from monk fruit, a small green melon that grows on lush vines in remote mountain regions.”
Monk fruit, which some of us may know as luo han guo, is a fruit in the gourd family native to China. “The first record of the monk fruit appears during the 13th century in reference to its use by the monks of Guilin,” according to the Chinese historical records.
Monk Fruit Extract is about 150 times sweeter than sugar and contributes zero calories per serving to Nectresse, a McNeil Nutritionals spokesperson told me. But I was surprised that the Ingredients List shows Monk Fruit Extract as the third ingredient. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the food industry companies list their ingredients “in descending order of predominance by weight.”
The first ingredient of Nectresse is erythritol, one of the sugar alcohols. Erythritol has a glycemic index of zero and provides 0.2 calories per gram. The second ingredient of Nectresse is sugar — plain table sugar or sucrose. It has a GI of 65 and provides 4 calories per gram. Then in third places on the list of the ingredients in Nectresse comes monk fruit, which doesn’t have a GI rating yet. The fourth and final ingredient is molasses, which also doesn’t have a GI, but is a by-product of making sugar cane into sugar.
Yet, Nectresse meets the FDA’s criteria for non calorie foods, a spokesperson for McNeil Nutritionals told me, because it has less than 5 calories per serving. “Nectresse, like other no-calorie sweeteners, has a small amount of carbohydrate (1-2 grams per serving) from other food ingredients to provide needed volume and texture.”
The company sent me a sample box of 40 packets, which have a suggested retail price of $3.99. Since I prefer not to use packets except to take with me when I eat out, I bought a canister of 140 servings for $6.99 at my local supermarket. The canister states that ¼ of a teaspoon of Nectresse equals 1 teaspoon of sugar.
While I sweeten few foods, I do add it to herbal tea and sometimes to blueberries and plain yogurt. It is indeed sweet and I have no fault to find with its taste. I haven’t noticed any bitter aftertaste that some people find with stevia. For them in particular, Nectresse could be an excellent choice.
My sweetener of choice has been a liquid stevia from NuNaturals. When I asked the spokesperson for McNeil Nutritionals if they plan to provide Nectresse in liquid form, he replied, “We can’t comment on upcoming forms at this time.”
For now I will continue to use Nectresse and liquid stevia interchangeably. I will compare how I like their taste and what effect, if any, they have on my blood sugar.
For all people with diabetes one of these two natural no calorie sweeteners must be our sweetener of choice. We need to avoid artificial high carb and high GI foods, and almost all of us need to watch how many calories we consume.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.