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Tagatose [was] Coming

By David Mendosa

Last Update: March 30, 2006

Update

Tagatose production has been put on hold.

The company, SweetGredients, announced in March 2006 that, “While progress has been made in creating a market for this innovative sweetener, it has not been possible to identify a volume potential justifying continued investments.”

It has closed the tagatose manufacturing facility in Nordstemmen, Germany.

However, it said at that time that the existing stock of tagatose is still available.

Noncaloric sweeteners got off to a bad start. But now several good alternatives exist, and one more just went through the regulatory process.

Saccharin, 300 times sweeter than sugar, was the first approved artificial sweetener. It is not now considered safe, and currently products containing saccharin must carry a warning on the label that it is hazardous to one's health.

Now we have
even more options.

Cyclamates, which are 30 times sweeter than sugar, are banned in the United States because large doses caused bladder cancer in animals.

Aspartame, which is 180 to 220 sweeter than sugar, is a combination of two amino acids. Also known as Equal and NutraSweet, aspartame has generated tremendous controversy over its safety and side effects.

But several other noncaloric sweeteners have fared better.

Newer Sweeteners
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Since it has not passed Food and Drug Administration testing, it can't be advertised as a sweetener. It is sold instead as "a dietary supplement."

Sucralose, marketed in the United States as Splenda, is actually made from sugar but is not metabolized by the body. It's made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. The FDA approved the use of sucralose as a general-purpose sweetener in August 1999.

Less widely used is Ace-sulfame K, also known as Sunette and Sweet One.

That's a wide choice. But now we have even more options.

The newest approved sweetener is Tagatose. On April 11 Arla Foods of Denmark and Biospherics Inc. of Beltsville, Maryland, jointly announced that an independent panel of scientists hired by ARLA to go over the data from the studies declared Tagatose to be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), thereby permitting its sale in the United States. The FDA permits this process on naturally occurring substances. After a GRAS declaration, the substance that has been so declared may be sold in the USA without any further input from the FDA. Most prudent companies, however submit their data (make application to) the FDA which is more like getting their blessing.

Almost No Calories
Biospherics, which is changing its name to Spherix, doesn't claim that Tagatose is noncaloric, only that it has "almost no calories." It is 92 percent as sweet as sugar, and technically is a sugar.

Scientifically known as D-tagatose, Tagatose occurs naturally in some dairy products and other foods. The patented production process starts from whey, a dairy by-product.

Arla Foods, which was created in April 2000 by the merger of Arla of Sweden and MD Foods of Denmark, is Europe's biggest dairy company. In 1997 Arla bought the global license to produce and market Tagatose from Biospherics.

The announcement by Biospherics and Arla last month that Tagatose could be sold in the United States because an expert panel found it to be GRAS caught my attention. The press release said in part, "Arla Foods announced that it is proceeding to notify the FDA of the findings of the expert panel. Arla's plan for the commercialization of Tagatose can now proceed." Doesn't the FDA as a whole have to decide?

It does go to the FDA for a 90-day review process, says Biospherics spokesperson Terry Nelson. "But that [a change] rarely occurs with something that has been GRASed. It can go on the market today now that the GRAS status has been given."

When will it be available? "That's in the licensee's [Arla Foods'] court," Nelson replies. "They are building the plants."

Helps Treat Diabetes
What does all this mean for people with diabetes? Biospherics says that two clinical studies found Tagatose useful as an adjunct in treating the disease. In addition, the company says that the studies demonstrated that people with type 2 diabetes using Tagatose are protected against glucose spikes from other sugar products.

Even the American Diabetes Association now says that people with diabetes can eat some sugar. But sugar is empty calories and can drive out nutrient-rich foods from a calorie-restricted diet. Sugar is also rather high on the glycemic index. This makes the development of these new sweeteners a boon for anyone with diabetes.

Arla Foods and Biospherics are promoting Tagatose as a prebiotic, a nondigestible food ingredient that affects the host by selectively targeting the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon. It thus has the potential to improve health. Tagatose can be considered a prebiotic based on an increase in the generation of short chain fatty acids, specifically an increased level of butyrate, and the promotion of beneficial bacteria. 

References:


This article originally appeared on Mendosa.com on May 1, 2001.


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