The word "clean" appears a lot in conversations surrounding protein. Clean can mean a lean ingredient list, no chemicals, no fats, no heavy metals, minimal cholesterol, no fillers, or even Made in the USA. Sometimes "clean" refers to no sugars. It is important for you to understand what is sweetening your daily protein supplement when it does not contain sugar.
As the health and wellness boom sweeps across the globe, athletes in particular are beginning to pay more attention when exploring new supplements or proteins. If you are focused on making gains and consuming a protein powder without consuming tons of unnecessary calories, your natural tendency may be to stay away from simple sugars (i.e., fructose, sucrose, and lactose). Let's be clear, our market is the fitness community. We don't believe sugar in moderation is bad, and as a matter of fact our latest product launches "Core" and "Tactical Recovery" both contain Organic Coconut Sugar (comparable to 2 apple slices) in place of a artificial sweeteners.
Despite the FDA regulations on nutrition facts panels (NFPs), many protein brands forgo disclosing that their product contains “simple sugars," especially in the form of lactose*. These same brands display warning statements in bold that read, “If you are Lactose Intolerant do not use this product." By putting two and two together, you can begin to understand these common practices in nondisclosure. The NFP does not list sugar; yet, the manufacturer warns the consumer that the product is loaded with lactose. Another way to determine when sugar is not disclosed on the NFP is to look at the number of carbohydrates in grams and subtract everything else in the sub-heading (for example, fiber). The remainder can indicate the undisclosed sugar. Keep in mind, "Supplement Facts" are designed to look like a traditional regulated NFP, but below is a good example of why we suggest to stay away any protein products that are classified as "Dietary Supplements".*Lactose is a milk sugar (made up of glucose and galactose units) that remains along with the whey protein once water is removed in the process of creating whey protein concentrate (WPC) from wet whey.
Not disclosing the sugar content is one thing, but listing 0 grams of sugar is where the need for sugar alternatives comes into play, especially when talking about whey protein isolate (WPI) or whey protein hydrolysate (WPH), which each contain minimal natural sugar (lactose) when compared to whey protein concentrate (WPC). The most common sweeteners to compensate for the lack of lactose are sucralose or stevia.
What is Sucralose?
Sucralose is the only type of artificial sweetener derived from real sugar molecules. It is created by substituting one part of a sugar molecule with chlorine to create a substance that is about 600 times sweeter than sucrose; this is why so little is needed to sweeten even the most bitter protein powders. This is great because when talking about clean and lean protein powders, a protein utilizing sucralose essentially has 0 grams of the daily serving attributed to the sweetener, which leaves each serving loaded with what the consumer wants and is paying for — protein. Sucralose also differs from other artificial sweeteners in that it passes through the digestive system without being metabolized, which is why it contains no calories. It is made right here in the USA. The taste profile is immediate, and in your face sweet, it's often used to mask undesired flavors by tying the pallet up with intense sweetness.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is obtained from an herb known as yerba dulce, which is grown in Paraguay, Brazil, Southeast Asia and other places (tropical climates, not made in the USA). When stevia was first introduced to the U.S. market, it was only available as a dietary supplement but quickly gained popularity as it can be marketed as "Natural". Stevia contains different chemical compounds that make it sweet, including its principal sweetening agent, rebaudioside A. These compounds make stevia anywhere from 40-300 times sweeter than table sugar. Thus, one teaspoon of stevia extract has about the same sweetening potency as an entire cup of sugar.
Are they FDA approved Sweeteners?
Yes. Sucralose has an excellent safety profile. More than 100 safety studies, representing over 20 years of research, have shown sucralose to be safe. Sucralose was FDA approved as an all-purpose sweetener in 1998 in the USA, and further recognized and approved by numerous global FDA equivalents:
- European Union Scientific Committee on Food (SCF)
- Food Standards Australia/New Zealand (FSANZ)
- Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada
- (Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)
- Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare
In the United States, high-purity stevia glycoside extracts are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and are allowed as non-nutritive ingredients in food products without a formal "approval". GRAS is different than "approved by the FDA". The FDA has simply put, not questioned the GRAS notice of stevia glycosides as a high intensity sweetener. So unlike Sucralose, Stevia does not have "Approved" status as food additive.
In more detail, these stevia glycocides are what can be found sweetening many protein powders. This said, its important to know, both stevia leaf and crude extracts do not have GRAS notices or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in food. To see how these glycosides are extracted here is the best video we found. Link to Real Stevia Extraction process (American Gainz Nutrition Disclaimer - We had zero choice in the music selection on this video, lol).
Although stevia is assumed safe by many due to its status as a natural sweetener, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) notes that being natural does not guarantee safety. Both Canadian and U.S. regulatory agencies have rejected stevia in the past. In addition, a European Community scientific panel made the decision that stevia was not an acceptable food additive.
If you are the type of health-conscious athlete who relies on nutrition in order to achieve peak performance, at American GAINZ Nutrition we strongly recommend always going with a lean & clean protein powder with minimal ingredients regardless of your preference of sweetener, as long as you understand all the ingredients and they are all openly disclosed on the packaging. We encourage you to avoid the calories from excess simple sugars and any brands that do not disclose their sugars in the nutritional fact or supplement fact panels. Our latest launch of both "Core" & "Tactical Recovery" proteins utilizes the latest and greatest FDA Nutrition Facts Panel which fully discloses "Added Sugars" as a component of the total sugar. If you prefer a pure, unflavored option, check out The Best Grass-Fed Whey, no sweeteners at all, just the worlds best certified Grass-fed Whey.