Food substitution refers to the undertaking of the reformulation of food and beverage products with one ingredient substituted for another. This can be done for cost or nutrition reasons, with manufacturers often looking for a substitute to meet the cost or nutrition reasons without changing the taste or perception of the product by consumers. This can include the substitution of popular ingredients with nutrition concerns, including fat, salt, and sugar.
Fat substitutes are compounds that physically and chemically resemble triglycerides and are stable to cooking and frying temperatures. Sugar or sugar alcohol fatty acid esters such as sucrose polyester, sorbitol polyester, and raffinose are among the more often studied substitutes for fat. These substitutes are designed to mimic one or more of the roles of fat in foods. The calorie density of fat substitutes can vary from virtually none to 9 calories per gram. Some fat substitutes can achieve the functional qualities of fat.
The specific fat substitute used in a food product may be the result of its functional properties, but federal regulation may also restrict foods in which specific fat substitutes may be used. Fat replacers can be categorized on the basis of the macronutrients source:
- Carbohydrate-based: these are made from starchy foods, such as corn, cereals, and grains. Most fat replacers are made from carbohydrate, with examples including cellulose, gelatin, dextrins, gums, and modified dietary fibers.
- Protein-based: these are made by modifying protein, using egg white or whey from milk. Examples include whey protein and microparticulated egg white and milk protein.
- Fat-based: these are made by replacing triglycerides in vegetable oils, with examples including caprenin, salatrim, and olestra.
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Salt substitutes have been posited as a healthy alternative to lower some people's consumption. Typically, salt substitutes swap sodium chloride for potassium chloride. However, this substitution can be dangerous when people have conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, or diabetes.
The other salt substitute often used is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which has been found to be a safe salt substitute in moderation. However, MSG has been shown to include short-term symptoms in a minority of people, with symptoms including nausea, tightness in the chest, or a burning sensation in the skin around the neck, face, and upper torso.
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Sugar substitutes are chemical or plant-based substances used to sweeten or enhance the flavor of foods and drinks, also known as artificial sweeteners or non-caloric sweeteners. These can be used as tabletop sweeteners or as ingredients in processed foods and drinks. Many of these substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, and some are substitutes low in calories, while others have no calories. Sugar substitutes are regulated as food additives by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means the FDA reviews the substitutes to be sure they are safe for use in foods and drinks.
Sugar substitutes can be broken down into two categories: natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes often promoted as healthier options than sugar or other sugar substitutes. these options often undergo processing and refining. Those recognized as generally safe by the FDA include the following:
- Fruit juices and nectars
- Maple syrup
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substitutes, which may be derived from naturally occurring substances, such as herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than sugar. These can be attractive alternatives to sugar as they add almost no calories to a diet, and people only need a fraction of artificial sweetener compared with the amount of sugar normally used for sweetness. Artificial sweeteners are widely used in a variety of processed foods:
- Soft drinks
- Baked goods
- Canned foods
- Jams and jellies
- Dairy products
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