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Repeal and replace: Sugar, fat reduction efforts continue to trend

The future of better-for-you fats and natural sweeteners in food production is bright, especially as clean label continues to take center stage.

As more consumers embrace healthier lifestyles, they are reading labels closer and seeking products with healthy halos. This heightened attention to wellness opens the door for food and beverage brands to deliver novel products to feed and fuel the mind, body and soul. In many cases, this means formulating or reformulating products with clean label ingredients, while also addressing the overarching themes of sugar reduction and the use of healthier fats.

Consumers Sour on Added Sugar

According to the 2018 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, consumption of and opinions regarding sugars have shifted over the years, with 33% of Americans pointing to sugar as the most likely calorie source responsible for weight gain.1 The findings aren’t surprising given sugar content in foods and beverages has been a politicized issue because of its association with several chronic illnesses, chief of which include obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

“The focus on sugar reduction appears to still be growing and reaching a more mainstream market driver,” said Alex Holste, commercial manager - stevia, monk fruit and erythritol, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). “From a historical perspective, diet trends seem to follow a relatively similar life cycle. The primary difference in the length of the life cycle seems to be driven by the size of the markets influenced. With sugar reduction, innovation still has significant upside as formulation work begins to focus on more challenging applications and larger sugar reduction targets for mass market products.”

Chris Schmidt, NAFTA regional marketing lead for food and beverage, DuPont, cited the Jan. 1, 2020, implementation of the new Nutrition Facts label in the U.S. as a key motivator for brands’ focus on sugar reduction. The revised Nutrition Facts label features an “added sugar” line both in terms of grams and as a percent daily value (%DV) on the label. The final rule requires “Includes X g Added Sugars" to be included under “Total Sugars” to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to the product.

“With the FDA rules on added sugars labeling coming into effect next year, and the persistently negative media coverage, sugar is facing a wave of negative sentiment,” he said. “Sugar reduction has been a major driver of snack bar formulation for years now. There’s also been renewed interest in the level of added sugars, in particular, because of the recent spat between the KIND and Clif Bar brands.”

Formulation Considerations

As the industry continues its shift toward clean label, product formulators must be mindful that some ingredients are not a 1-to-1 replacement for sugar, and reformulation can affect product traits such as mouthfeel, texture, taste and functionality. Fortunately, today’s clean label sweeteners provide formulators with options to deliver deeper sugar reduction with a higher level of sweetness and improved quality of sweetness.

Regardless of the application, sugar is highly functional, delivering more than sweet taste. In baked goods, sugar impacts how much cookies spread when baked, the binding of ingredients in granola bars, aeration and tenderness in cakes, browning, bulk, texture, shelf life and more. In frozen desserts, sugar contributes to moisture control, freezing-point depression and microbial control. In beverages, sugar plays a critical role in mouthfeel.

When product formulators reduce or remove the sugar, they need to consider all the ingredients and how they replace functionality and flavor in the application. “For example, in a bar application, we must find a way to keep the bar soft and flexible when certain ingredients are reduced,” said Kati Ledbetter, senior manager, applications science and technology, ADM. “If we remove the sugar, we may have to replace it with soluble fiber. It’s important that we find the right balance of ingredients to maintain the function.”

Derived from chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose are prebiotic fibers that offer a sweet taste and serve as a bulking ingredient to replace texture and functional of sugar, while providing a clean label option. With half the calories of sucrose, chicory root can be used in a wide range of applications from dairy, cereal and baked goods to confectionery, supplements, chocolate and beverages.

“Partially replacing high-glycemic sugars with low-glycemic chicory fibers effectively reduces the glycemic response of foods,” said Kyle Krause, product manager, functional fiber and carbohydrates, North America, BENEO. “While reducing the amount of sugar, they also maintain excellent sensorial taste and texture results. At the same time, inulin and oligofructose enrich foods with fiber, thus helping consumers to reach the recommended level of dietary fiber intake.”

Rosa Sanchez, group manager for beverage applications, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, pointed to Litesse polydextrose as a soluble option that works well in a broad range of food and beverage applications. “It also has the benefit of being recognized as a source of fiber by FDA, promoting strong prebiotic activity [Nutr Rev. 2011 Jan;69(1):9-21], and being both lower calorie and lower glycemic index than other fiber sources,” she added.

High-intensity sweeteners also achieve the goal of reducing sugar content in applications, but often come paired with an off-flavor that requires a masking solution, noted Philip Caputo, marketing and consumer insights manager, Virginia Dare. However, a single formulation does not fit all applications. “Refining the taste of a product requires an integrated system of off-taste masking, flavor top-noting, sweetener modulation and mouthfeel improvement,” he added. “Our taste improvement systems are application-specific and tailored to the product for optimal performance.”

Paul Verderber, senior vice president of sales, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients (CIFI) noted an uptick in sugar reduction interest from customers in five main application groups: nutrition bars, baked goods, beverages, sauces/condiments and dairy.

“Juice beverages in particular are often promoted as a healthy choice to satiate consumers’ sweet fixes, but they can contain a significant amount of sugar,” Verderber said. “With recent changes in nutritional labeling and consumer attitudes, juice brands no longer can presume their products will be perceived as the healthy option, but rather must proactively work to ensure they continue to offer consumers a beverage they can feel good about consuming.”

Verderber said proprietary testing of CIFI’s clarified sweet potato juice Carolina Clear found it can effectively reduce sugar in juice applications, maintain desirable sweetness and other sensory qualities, and provide minerals such as potassium. “Our technical team has conducted several tests blending Carolina Clear with apple and other fruit juices,” he said. “When blended by volume with the juices, it yields a juice with no major differences from the unblended juice in color, flavor, texture, viscosity or aroma.”

BENEO’s Palatinose isomaltulose is naturally derived from non-GMO sugar beet and is a low glycemic sugar. According to Krause, isomaltulose is slowly released into the body for balanced and prolonged energy, which is a significant benefit for consumers of all ages. “There is sufficient and convincing evidence that following a carbohydrate-based diet with lower impact on blood glucose levels will reduce the risk for developing metabolic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity [Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 25(9): 795-815],” he said. “Replacing high glycemic sugars with low glycemic options like Palatinose can contribute enormously to health.”

The key forces driving consumer demand for natural sweeteners—sugar reduction and clean label—show no sign of abating. At the same time, consumers want reduced-sugar foods and beverages made with familiar ingredients, but not at the expense of taste, which is and will remain the single biggest driver of purchase intent.

Cutting the Fat

The release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) marked a key turning point for fats by calling for the reduction of trans fats and limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories. Further, the DGAs suggest a healthy eating pattern should include consumption of plant-based oils such as from canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower, as well as oils naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados.

This heightened demand for healthier fats and oils is impacting all food and beverage categories, particularly indulgent goodies like cookies, cakes and confectionery that contain higher fat content. The good news is fat and oil technologies are keeping pace with the ever-dynamic needs and preferences of today’s marketplace, and brands are turning to ingredient suppliers for healthier options that don’t compromise taste or function.

The popularity of the keto diet also has helped shift public opinion of dietary fats. “Keto consumers get most of their calories from fats, and many consumers now understand the importance of including ‘good fats’ in their diets,” said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing, Bunge. “This has led to rising interest in alternatives to conventional edible oils.”

Brands also are swapping oils higher in saturated fats with those containing higher levels of unsaturated fats such as high oleic soybean oil that carries a qualified heart health claim from FDA. “High oleic soybean oil is a heart-healthier option for consumers, but it also offers improved functionality for manufacturers, like extended fry life and shelf life,” Stavro said, noting Bunge’s new line of Vream Specialty Shortenings also uses interesterified high-oleic soybean oil, which helps to enhance the appearance, mouthfeel and functionality of icings, donuts and tortillas.

Key to fat replacement is creating a fat-like texture in the product that is indulgent, palatable, process stable, low-calorie and clean label. “There are two different techniques available that enable producers to meet this challenge; the first is the single-ingredient approach that uses either prebiotic chicory root fiber (inulin) or rice starch.  The second approach combines both ingredients in optimal quantities,” Krause said.

Inulin is ideal for replacing fat in products because its long chain molecular structure and low solubility enable it to form fat-like granules in water-containing systems under high shear, Krause noted. Further, it has a neutral flavor and does not affect the taste of the product, yet delivers a similar mouthfeel, texture and creaminess as fat. “In addition, consumers can enjoy a reduced-fat, fiber-enriched product that is nearly the same as the original indulgent product,” he said.

Formulators also can use regular rice starch to improve a product’s structure because it mimics the perception of fat globules in the mouth. “Its unique molecular structure creates smooth soft gels with high creaminess and transparency,” Krause said. “Rice starch obtains textures ranging from short to long, making it ideal for use as a fat replacer with short texture puddings, flans and mousses, as well as longer texture yogurts and creamier desserts.”

Chicory root fiber (inulin) and waxy rice starch can also be combined to bring the benefits of both ingredients to the final product. “Depending on the texture and creaminess required, different variants of BENEO’s Remyline rice starch can be blended with BENEO’s Orafti® Inulin with optimal results,” Krause said. “For example, ice cream is a perfect place for both ingredients to add a creamy, premium type texture to a healthier, reduced fat and sugar treat.”

The future of better-for-you fats and oils in food production is bright, especially as clean label continues to take center stage. Consumers will continue to seek indulgent products such as baked goods, snacks, confectionery and dairy products where fats and oils help create a memorable tasting experience, but they also want to feel good about their choices. This opens the door for brand holders to not only clean up ingredient lists, but also add functionality into finished products.

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