chocolate hazelnut danish chocolate hazelnut danish Decadent holiday desserts may be easier to eat in the not-too-distant future. (Photo: Sarah F. Berkowitz)

New sugar substitute may be sweet news for diabetics

Tel Aviv company has created a product that is several thousand times as sweet as sugar, and healthy to digest.

Thanksgiving, with its bounty of delicious food, is right around the corner. And those holiday desserts can spell danger for anyone with diabetes or even those just looking to eat more healthy.

Now, an Israeli startup thinks it may have a solution: they've created a calorie-free "sweet protein" that is thousands of times more sweet than sugar, and they claim it's healthier to digest. "Sugar is public enemy #1, but you cannot get rid of sugar,” said Dr. Ilan Samish, who founded Amai Proteins in December 2016. "People enjoy sugar. So the question is: how do you move from sugar to something which is really healthy?”

After spending years doing R&D at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, where Samish received his Ph.D., the product is finally seeing the light of day. They are currently running trials and seeking regulatory approval. An Israeli food tech incubator called The Kitchen has invested in it. Already, Samish is working with fellow Israeli company SodaStream to merge his company's protein with their home carbonation soda machines.

The news couldn't have come at a more propitious time. According to the American Diabetes Association, the numbers are staggering. 30 million Americans – or nearly 10% of the population – suffer from diabetes. Another 84 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic. And another 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year. Medical costs for caring for those with diabetes reached $327 billion in the U.S. last year.

People looking to decrease their sugar intake can turn to the myriad artificial sweeteners on the market, but those come with their own health caveats as well. For example, a new study that was recently released from Ben-Gurion University in Israel found that artificial sweeteners have toxic effects on gut microbes. Not to mention, many people consume this added ingredient – which is used in countless food products – without their knowledge.

soda machine There are lots of artificial sweeteners in diet sodas. (Photo: sutsaiy /Shutterstock)

Amai Proteins is just the latest in a string of Israeli startups that are making their mark in what's known as the food tech industry. There's everything from an innovative container which helps fruits and vegetables last longer to lab grown hamburgers to 3D-printed food. There's even a digital swivel stick that can monitor the sugar in your drinks.

Want more? Our Israeli Kitchen section has a bunch of recipes that substitute sugar for something a little more inventive – dates. You could try to make homemade date fudge or these date-sweetened carrot muffins. After all, scientific studies have shown that dates are a low glycemic sugar substitute.

As for Samish and his new "sweet protein" invention, he hopes to have the product available to consumers in the coming years. Which makes this Thanksgiving one of the last places you'll have to bypass the scrumptious-looking pie buffet.

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New sugar substitute may be sweet news for diabetics
Tel Aviv company has created a product that is several thousand times as sweet as sugar, and healthy to digest.