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Beverage Ingredients

Credit:  American Beverage Association

Beverages are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet: they provide hydration, quench thirst and can deliver energy, essential vitamins and minerals. Beverages complement the foods we eat and, consumed responsibly, are a needed component of a balanced diet. In fact, many of the beverage industry’s products, including bottled waters, juices, sports drinks, teas, milk and diet soft drinks can be catalysts to health and fitness.

Some of the key ingredients in non-alcoholic beverages include low-calorie sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and caffeine.



Caffeine is a natural substance and mild stimulant found in coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cocoa beans and other plants. Caffeine also can be created to be identical to the natural substance. Both natural and manufactured forms of caffeine are safe ingredients that consumers have enjoyed in many beverages around the world. In North America, most adults aged 25 and over consume most of their caffeine from coffee, but other sources include tea, soft drinks and energy drinks.


History:  Caffeine is an alkaloid compound that has been safely used as a flavor enhancer in many beverages for more than one hundred years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated caffeine in cola drinks as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) in 1959. The FDA considers caffeine safe for all consumers, including children. In 1987, following extensive review, the FDA “found no evidence to show that the use of caffeine in carbonated beverages would render these products injurious to health.”

Ingredients:  Found naturally in more than 60 species of plants, caffeine is one of the most studied ingredients. In amounts often found in coffee and some energy drinks, caffeine can have a pleasant stimulating or alerting effect. More than 140 countries have specifically considered the safety of caffeine and allow its use in beverages at varying levels.


Low-Calorie Sweeteners

Low-calorie sweeteners give foods and beverages a sweet taste without the calories. Many consumers use low-calorie sweeteners to enhance the taste of food and drinks, or they purchase products prepared with low-calorie sweeteners. Low-calorie sweeteners offer consumers options to help them with their lifestyle—whether to maintain weight, help manage diabetes or simply retain sweet taste without adding calories. In fact, a 2004 consumer survey showed that 63 percent of consumers of low-calorie products are not on a diet. Staying in better overall health is rated as the number one reason for using low-calorie foods and beverages.

History:  Low-calorie sweeteners, also known as sugar substitutes, surfaced more than a century ago with saccharin, the first sugar substitute, appearing in 1879. Saccharin was discovered at Johns Hopkins University and provided an alternative for those with diabetes, allowing them to sweeten their foods and beverages without additional calories or the glucose load associated with sugar or other sweeteners. World War II provided a growth opportunity for sugar substitutes because of sugar rationing. Saccharin stepped in to fill the sugar needs and its popularity continued to grow well after the war, into the 1960s. From that point, consumer interest in weight control blossomed and companies began exploring other sweetener options.

Ingredients:  There are five major low-calorie sweeteners approved for use in foods and beverages in the United States, which are acesulfame potassium (ace-K), saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and neotame. Neotame is rarely used, but the others are used frequently. With virtually no calories, these ingredients provide 180 to 13,000 times the sweetness of sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar. Diet and low-calorie soft drinks are typically made using one or more of these five common low-calorie sweeteners. Manufacturers choose among the sweeteners and often blend them to better match beverage formulations and appeal to consumer tastes and preferences. Each of the five major low-calorie sweeteners went through an extensive U.S. Food and Drug Adminis¬tration (FDA) approval process. To initiate this review, the sponsors submitted a petition that included extensive safety data. The scientific community, along with FDA, has conducted hundreds of studies on the safety of acesulfame potassium (ace-K), saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and neotame. Consumption of these sweeteners is well within designated “acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels, or levels that can be consumed safely every day over a lifetime.”

High Fructose Corn Syrup

In the United States, most non-diet soft drinks are sweetened with either sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or a mixture of the two. Sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. HFCS is a liquid sweetener which is similar to sucrose in chemical composition, calories and sweetness, but is made from corn. HFCS is used in products ranging from cereals and beverages to meat products and condiments. While sucrose is the most common sweetener used in foods and beverages in the United States, HFCS is a popular nutritive sweetener as well.

History:  Developed in the 1950s, HFCS became commercially available as a liquid replacement for sucrose beginning in the 1970s. The transition from using sucrose as a sweetener to using HFCS continued to take place through the 1980s.

Ingredients:  The name is really a misnomer. HFCS is not fructose nor is it high in fructose. HFCS is simply a liquid sweetener made from corn with a similar composition to sucrose (table sugar). In fact, sucrose is made up of the two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, in equal amounts. Like sucrose, HFCS also is composed primarily of glucose and fructose, with trace amounts of some other simple sugars. Further, absorption and metabolism of HFCS are also similar to that of sucrose. The type of HFCS most frequently used in beverages, HFCS-55, has been formulated to have a similar sweetness to table sugar and has a ratio of 55 percent fructose to 45 percent glucose. Some beverages may contain HFCS-42, which is composed of 42 percent fructose to 58 percent glucose. Neither type used in beverages, however, is actually high in fructose.