CHICAGO — In light of the introduction of the “added sugars” line of the Nutrition Facts Label in the United States, the Institute of Food Technologists explored the topic of dietary recommendations and the future of sugar during a session at its annual expo in Chicago, being held July 15-18. Speakers discussed the diversity around the world in the definitions of sugar, whether sugar consumption was truly an issue and different strategies to reformulate products for reduced added sugars.
While the definition of free sugars and added sugars vary from country to country, around the globe the consensus among health and nutrition scientists and even consumers seems to be that limiting sugar intake is better for one’s health. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.), for example, recommended that adults and children reduce their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake and less than 5% intake would be even better. Free sugars, according to W.H.O., refers to all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus the sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.
Added sugars on the other hand are defined from country to country so it can be difficult to compare sugar intake between countries that define sugar differently, said Kathy Musa-Veloso, Ph.D., associate director, Intertek, during her presentation on the key contributors to sugar intake between the United Kingdom and the United States. These added sugars are what will be called out from the “Total Sugars” line on the Nutrition Facts Label and what have bakers and snack producers scrambling to reformulate their products with less added sugar.
What Dr. Musa-Veloso found in comparing sugar intake in the United States and the United Kingdom to the recommended daily intake values established by W.H.O. was that sugar consumption is indeed something to be concerned about. While W.H.O. recommends only consuming 50 grams a day or 10% of total energy intake, Dr. Musa-Veloso reported that every age category is consuming considerably more than that on a daily basis. And because the U.K.’s definition of added sugars includes more sugar sources, the U.S. numbers could have even higher had those sources been considered for that population.
“Overall, Americans and Brits like their sweets, and we need to see how we can reduce added sugars,” she said.
There are three main strategies for reformulating away from added sugar that Melanie Goulson, general manager and principal scientist, Merlin Development, laid out during her presentation. The first is to remove sugar altogether and not replace it at all. The second is to sweeten the product last or reduce the sugar gradually over time to allow consumers to adapt to the new taste. The third is to sweeten the product differently using non-nutritive sweeteners. These sweeteners include bulking sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and allulose and non-bulking, high potency sweeteners such as stevia, monkfruit and aspartame. All of these sweeteners come with their own challenges in reformulation such as bitterness, off flavors, mouthfeel and balancing the flavor and functionality.
One way to address these challenges is to blend sweeteners, whether it’s two high-potency sweeteners or a bulk and non-bulking sweetener.
“Blending sweeteners can boost sweetness intensity and mitigate off-flavors,” Ms. Goulson said.
Jim Painter, Ph.D., adjunct professor at the University of Texas and chair at Sugarwise, Inc., offered a fourth strategy for sugar reduction: replacing added sugars with an intrinsic sugar, specifically with fruit.
“Why not substitute an intrinsic sugar for an added sugar?” he asked. “It seems like an obvious choice, but it’s not done very much.”
Intrinsic sugars are those that occur naturally in the product and include sugars present in 100% fruit juice, according the U.S. definition, Dr. Musa-Veloso explained in her presentation. While they contribute to the total sugars declaration, they do not contribute to the added sugars.
Dr. Painter looked at why intrinsic sugars and those labeled as added sugars might function differently and found that the fiber and potassium present in raisins might have an impact on how human bodies respond to the sugar they carry. When compared to how glucose levels changed when snacking on a carbohydrate snack vs. some raisins, Dr. Painter showed that the glucose levels rose drastically with the carbohydrate snack whereas they fell with the raisin.
“Sugar is sugar, but if it’s packaged in fiber, our bodies handle it differently,” he said.
With these results in mind, Dr. Painter suggested bakers use raisin paste as a way to sweeten their products and replace some of the functionality of sugars without contributing to the added sugars line. Raisin paste not only adds sweetness to a formulation, but it is also a natural preservative, preserves moisture, adds fiber and nutrients and is low in sodium.