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Hitting the sweet spot in sugar reduction

July 17, 2018

sugar reduction

Although there are some differences in the ways that public health and regulatory agencies around the globe define added sugars, it is widely recognized that they are overconsumed and their intake should be reduced. In a session titled “Sugar: Dietary Recommendations, Current Intakes, and the Future of Sweets” on Tuesday at IFT18, experts explored various facets of the topic, and presenter Melanie Goulson, general manager and principal scientist at Merlin Development, a product development company, zeroed in on the formulation challenges associated with sugar reduction.  

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has recommended that Americans consume less than 10% of their calories in the form of added sugars, and that equates to no more than 50 grams of added sugars in a 2,000 calorie/day diet, said Goulson. When it comes to added sugars, beverages, which contribute 47% of added sugars in the diet, and sweets and snacks, which contribute 31%, are the primary culprits.  

There are three basic approaches to sugar reduction, Goulson observed. No. 1 is “don’t sweeten it at all,” an approach that has been used successfully in categories such as flavored water. Second, is “sweeten it less,” which has worked in categories including breakfast cereals. Last is “sweeten it differently,” which involves using a non-nutritive sweetener alone or in combination.  

There are two main categories of non-nutritive sweeteners, said Goulson. Bulk sweeteners, such as allulose, sorbitol, mannitol, and more, are low in potency, can be used at high levels, and function to replace some of sugar’s bulk in product formulations. Non-bulking sweeteners, which are high in potency but do not deliver bulking attributes in formulations, include stevia, monk fruit, sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, neotame, and saccharin, among others. 

More and more, said Goulson, formulators are finding it advantageous to blend sweeteners. The benefits of blending, which she outlined, include the following: boosting sweetness intensity; mitigating side tastes; managing temporal dynamics (sweetness intensity as a function of time); and leveraging sweetness synergies.  

Presenter Jim Painter, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, recommended another formulating option: “Keep it sweet. Use fruit.” Specifically, he suggested substituting fruit pastes for added sugars. It’s beneficial, he said, because such fruit ingredients are metabolized differently and will likely have less effect on blood glucose while providing benefits such as fiber and phytonutrients. 

Barbara Schneeman, emeritus professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, opened the symposium sharing definitions of terminology such as added sugars, free sugars, and sugar-based ingredients. Presenter Kathy Musa-Veloso, director of health claims at Intertek, compared sugar consumption statistics in the United States and the United Kingdom.