With sugar reformulation still a main focus for government and the food industry, a recent Institute of Food Science and Technology event brought together a panel of experts to discuss the government policies, industry response and consumer reaction. The event, organised by IFST’s Food Science and Nutrition Group, explored some of the technologies to reduce sugars, both current and emerging.
“As many food manufacturers know, reducing sugar in food is not simple,” said Kate Halliwell, FDF Head of UK Diet and Health Policy, who chaired the event. “Sugar has many technical functions in food, in addition to just adding flavour.”
So what are some of the possible solutions available?
For products such as drinks, sauces and yoghurts, sugars can often be replaced with high potency sweeteners (HPS) and water, which can lead to a very significant calorie reduction. There is some resistance from consumers to synthetic HPS, but the benefits of these sweeteners outweigh the negative perceptions. Stevia, the principal naturally derived HPS, has limitations based on its taste quality and maximum addition rate. When using all HPS there are issues such as processing and shelf stability as well as the taste profiles to consider.
Where the physical bulk of sugars has to be replaced, a minimum of 30% reduction is required to make any product claim. However, this does not always mean reducing calories, nor indeed a nutritionally better product. If sugars (at 4 calories per gram) can be replaced with an ingredient with zero calories, 30% sugar reduction will often result in a 30% calorie reduction.
The only solid ingredient which delivers this is erythritol. However, as this is a sugar alcohol, any addition above 10% in the product needs to have a warning of potential gastric distress. Other sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol provide 2.4 calories per gram. Despite the need for such a warning, sugar alcohols are widely used in sugar-free and reduced sugar confectionery.
Fibres are being much more widely used now as there is more choice and varied functionality. With fibres providing 2 calories per gram, they can be useful in reducing the sugars and overall calories of products. Soluble fibres such as corn fibre and inulin (extracted from chicory root) are widely used, although inulin does have tolerance issues for some people.
These are becoming popular as they are well tolerated and labelling friendly. For example, green banana flour on an ingredient list is consumer friendly, although it is a very expensive ingredient. Resistant starch or dextrins offer more cost-effective options.
Starch or maltodextrins can technically be used to formulate a reduced sugar product to underpin a marketing claim, but these will have a higher glycaemic index and, therefore, may not have a positive nutritional impact. Reduced sugar cereals often present this issue.
Key upcoming government documents
Some important publications are due over the coming months that are relevant to sugar reformulation. The year two monitoring report of the sugar reduction programme is due toward the end of summer 2019; the Chief Medical Officer’s report on reducing childhood obesity is due out in September 2019. In 2020, a Government review of England’s food system from field to fork (led by Henry Dimbleby) is due to be published in the summer; and a childhood obesity plan chapter three may be published next year too.