Starbuck’s New 0 Calorie Sweetener: what exactly is it?

On September 9th[1], thousands of Starbucks locations across the USA started stocking a new 0 calorie sweetener in a green packet, produced by Whole Earth, called Nature Sweet. If you’re like me, you are intensely interested in the things you put into your body, so naturally, I flipped the little green packet over and found the ingredient list.

Ingredients: erythritol, fructose, chicory root fiber, stevia leaf extract, monk fruit extract.

So what exactly are each of these things, what do they do to you, and are they really zero calorie?

Erythritol

Erythritol is a natural sugar alcohol that is found in certain fruits and produced by certain fermentation processes of regular sugar. It has a long history of human use, is FDA approved, and contains 0.2 calories per gram, which is pretty low. It also has a “cooling” effect making the mouth feel a bit different than regular sugar. Useful in food stuffs that are going for this, such as mint flavored things. It’s about 60-70% as sweet as sugar and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. FDA, and doesn’t typically stomach distress like other sugar alcohols can, when consumed in large amounts.

Fructose

Fructose is the name of sugar that occurs naturally, and in abundance, in fruit! This is decidedly not a 0 calorie ingredient, having the same caloric value as refined sugar at 4 calories per gram. Also the fact that it’s the 2nd ingredient on the list means is the 2nd most prominent ingredient by weight, so that’s a bit suspicious. But in the end, fructose is completely natural and is safe to consume. The entire packet is also only 2 grams total, so the actual amount of fructose in here is negligible.

Chicory Root FiberRelated image

Chicory root fiber, also known as inulin, is a soluble fiber with many recorded health benefits. It is also not really calorie free, and weighs in at 1.5 calories per gram. This is a rough estimation though, as inulin is fermented heavily in the digestive tract by beneficial gut bacteria, so the amount available to the body as calorie energy is somewhat variable. Inulin is safe to consume, and actually promotes healthy gut bacteria! It is about 10% the sweetness of sugar.

 

Stevia Leaf Extract

Stevia comes from an herb, and truly has 0 calories. The downside is that it doesn’t quite have the same taste or mouth feel that sugar does, so many people aren’t fond of it alone. In high quantities, it can impart a bitter flavor. But at 1500% sweeter than sugar, you really don’t need much for it to have the sweetening effect! This is probably why Whole Earth has it in here in such small amounts. Stevia has been used for a long time and is generally regarded as safe.

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit comes from a melon-like fruit and also has a long history of human use. It’s around 1500-2000% sweeter than regular sugar, and also truly has 0 calories. This is the last ingredient on the package, so it is contained least by volume. Monk fruit is a powerful sweetener, making a little go a long way.

So is it truly zero calories?

The true answer is: no. It is not truly zero calories thanks to the erythritol, fructose, and chicory root fiber ingredients. What concerns me the most is the inclusion of fructose, because it is equal to refined sugar in terms of calories, carbohydrates, and effect on blood sugar. But the reality is, the amount of fructose in one packet is very negligible and most of the perceived sweetness seems like it must be coming from the very strong stevia and monk fruit ingredients. The whole packet itself is definitely less than 5 calories, because that is the only way the FDA would allow them to claim it as a 0 calorie sweetener.[2]

“It is not truly zero calories thanks to the erythritol, fructose, and chicory root fiber ingredients.”

In my mind, it’s a better choice than the artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose), and better than regular sugar. Whole Earth claims one packet (2 grams) is equal to 2 tsp of sugar (8.4 grams). So if you’re using 1 or 2 packets for your venti coffee, I think you’re fine, and you’re adding less than 10 calories to your drink.

Disclaimer: clicking on the links above awards me a very small advertising credit to my Amazon Associates account. I am not paid by Amazon or any other company for my opinions or to directly promote products. The opinions expressed on this site are my own. Buying a product using ad links on my site goes towards helping me pay for website maintenance costs and the fuel (coffee!) that powers my blog writings.

References

[1] https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-offers-nature-sweet

[2] http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064911.htm