The health and wellness trend has become more nuanced in recent years than simply reaching specific claims: reduced fat, reduced sugar, reduced sodium. In fact, some of those claims might be enough to turn consumers off as they can be associated with poor taste. Regardless of what consumers say they want when it comes to healthy food, if it tastes bad, they won’t buy it again. 

Consumers are approaching their healthy eating holistically. Not only do they want to cut calories and sugar intake, but they also want more positive attributes like fiber and protein. 

“As consumers take a more proactive approach to their overall health and well-being, they’re increasingly scrutinizing product labels,” said Jeff Hodges, bakery scientist, snacks and baking, ADM. “Many are looking to reduce calories and limit added or total sugars as these pieces typically go hand-in-hand.” 

When lowering calories in baked foods, formulators often turn to sugar because of how many calories it contributes. Sugar is worth 4 Cal per gram, so removing or even reducing it can make a significant impact on calorie count, and it’s attractive to health-conscious consumers as well. 

“Consumers are concerned about the negative impact sugar has on their diets as it relates to overall health, including weight management and management of blood glucose levels,” said Kyle Krause, product manager, functional fibers and carbohydrates, North America, Beneo. “That’s why when choosing a sugar reduction strategy, the choice of sugar replacers should offer significant health benefits or not be harmful to the body in the way they are metabolized.” 

Sugar doesn’t contribute just its sweet flavor to baked goods. Depending on the application, sugar also can offer other functionalities, such as bulking, which provides much of the structure, mouthfeel and texture to a finished good. Because of this, formulators often recommend bakers use a holistic approach to reducing sugar so that no functionality is lost. 

“Reducing the amount of sugar in formulations can also help to reduce overall calories, and this reduction is possible as many of the current sugar replacement ingredients are also lower in calories,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader, innovation and technical service, Ingredion Inc. “Depending on the desired level of calorie reduction, a single ingredient may work, but a combination of ingredients is often needed to achieve a higher calorie reduction claim. Other factors, such as target market, labeling, cost and availability also impact ingredient selection. For example, keto-type products require very low sugars and carbohydrates and often a somewhat clean label. Allulose, erythritol, fiber and stevia are usually found in these products to meet these requirements,” he continued.

Mr. Shinsato estimated that, depending on the ingredient solutions being used, bakers could reduce calories from sugar from 50% to 100%.  

That ingredient solution, however, depends largely on what sugar is doing within the formulation. Understanding how sugar is functioning in a bakery application and what the baker’s parameters and goals are will be critical as formulators use sugar reduction as a vehicle to cut calories. 

This article is an excerpt from the July 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Calorie Reduction, click here.