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Meeting the challenge of sugar reduction

Article-Meeting the challenge of sugar reduction

The trend for healthier eating will continue and it will be key to reformulate products that taste just as good as the original versions. We interviewed Prof. Kathy Groves, Leatherhead Food Research, to discover the biggest challenges related to reducing sugar in our food.

What are the biggest challenges around reducing sugar?

"Reducing sugars in foods and drinks is complex. In addition to lending sweetness to products, sugar gives biscuits their characteristic crunch, helps cakes rise and has preservative qualities, extending shelf life."

"Reducing sugar is a challenge for two main reasons. Firstly, non-sugar sweeteners don't have the same sweetness intensity as sucrose and often are associated with other flavours such as bitterness. Secondly, other sensory attributes such as texture, colour and stability are affected by lowering or removing sugar – these attributes are just as important as sweetness to consumers."

What are the best replacements in terms of like-for-like functionality with sugar?

"This depends on the product and therefore needs to be tailored. Based on functionality, sugar replacers can be classified into two main categories – bulk sweeteners and intense sweeteners."

"Typically containing 40% less calories than sugar, bulk sweeteners are used in similar amounts to sugar and contribute to the mass that sugar would give to the product as well as functional properties such as texture and viscosity. Examples include sorbitol, maltitol and xylitol."

"Intense sweeteners are used in small quantities and provide sweetness without adding any calorific value or bulk. Examples of intense sweeteners include stevia, thaumatin, saccharin, sucralose and aspartame."

"Other ingredients widely used in the food industry as sugar replacers are soluble fibres and dextrins, for example polydextrose and inulin. These have the additional benefit of increasing the product"s total fibre content."

"Companies need to check the relevant regulations as their use in different product applications will depend on legislative restrictions in the country where the product(s) will be sold."

Have initiatives such as the "sugar tax" stifled innovation in the industry, or has it helped?

"A recent study by Leatherhead Food Research revealed that 50% of people globally are striving to eat less sugar compared with the previous 12 months. Consumers are keen to have healthier products that taste as good as the higher sugar originals; it"s this desire that drives innovation in the industry."

Are there other ingredients that are challenging to replace? (e.g. Salt? Fat?)

"Yes, salt and fat are both linked to health issues and both have taste and functionality properties that make it difficult to replace them easily."

Clean label is another big trend at the moment. What are the best solutions for clean label sugar reduction?

"Again this is product specific. Monk fruit, thaumatin and stevia are sweeteners that are sourced naturally and seen as clean label; these can be used in combination with other ingredients for clean label sugar reduction. A close eye needs to be kept on food & drink regulations as there may be restrictions as to which countries and product applications they can be used in."

Is sugar reduction a trend that is likely to continue in the future?

"The trend for healthier eating will continue and key will be to reformulate products that taste just as good as the original versions. Sugar in itself is not a bad ingredient; it's total calories in the diet and the balance of nutritious ingredients that is important. In this context sugar reduction will remain a high priority for the food industry."

What are your predictions for the F&B industry in the next 3-5 years?

"Consumers are keen to integrate health and diet to a much greater extent than before. This will, I think, continue to increase as people become more aware of the importance of food and health. It will lead to more personalisation in products as well as the introduction of more unusual ingredients – such as Maqui berries and algae fats – that are considered to have nutrition/health benefits. With Leatherhead's research revealing that 40% of consumers globally would like products matching their personal dietary and nutritional needs more readily available, this is an area to watch."