Nutritive sugars used to sweeten foods and beverages are metabolically indistinguishable from naturally occurring sugars; that’s to say our bodies can’t tell the difference. However, in order to help consumers better identify sources of “empty" calories, USDA created the term “added sugars" back in 2000. It’s not a term on the nutrition facts panel yet, but FDA is looking into adding it to the label so consumers can easily see how much “extra" sweetener is inside.
The average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons (355 calories) of added sugars daily, which greatly exceeds the recommendation of the American Heart Association, Dallas, of no more than 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men each day of added sugars (AHA Scientific Statement, Circulation, 2009).
As listed in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, added sugars include high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose and crystal dextrose.
From a product development perspective, there are multiple sugar-reducing options, from partial reduction to complete replacement. To provide consumers the sweetness they want while avoiding formulation challenges in reduced-sugar foods and beverages, product designers are increasingly seeking an optimized blend of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners. The question, of course, becomes which blend is best for which product application. It’s a delicate dance between form, function and nutrition, all nestled within the quest for fewer, simpler and more natural ingredients.
Despite there being no formal definition of "natural," the specter against artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and aspartame is apparentthe percent of new product launches containing acesulfame potassium dropped from 56% in 2009 to 49% in 2013, while aspartame-containing product launches dropped from 40% to 32%. Instead, sweeteners viewed as "natural" by consumers, like stevia and monk fruit, are gaining traction in the marketplace.
Stevia comes from a leafy plant native to South America. It can be 400 times sweeter than sugar. Purified stevia leaf extracts can contain one steviol glycoside or several different glycosides. High-purity stevia extract is defined as containing 95% or greater steviol glycoside content. However, formulation challenges include bitterness at higher concentrations, plus a lingering licorice-like after taste. Masking agents and other modifiers have helped overcome these flavor profile challenges.
Monk fruit, or lo han guo , in powdered-extract form, is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit tends to work best in flavor systems that have an inherent bitterness, like teas. However, monk-fruit juice is making headway into flavored milks.
Technically a drupe, coconut is another fruit whose sugar is gaining ground with consumers. Often sold as an organic alternative to cane and beet sugar, coconut sugar is appearing in higher-value processed organic foods like baking mixes, chocolate and ready-to-eat cereals. On the other hand, some product designers are going back to the basics, using sweeteners like honey and maple, which taste great, offer versatility and meet consumer demand for "natural."
For more information on sweetener solutions, and how to use them in formulations, visit Food Product Design's FoodTech Toolbox: Navigating the Landscape of Sweetener Formulations.