Food makers are racing to find acceptable alternatives to sugar. But it’s hard to replace a taste that so many Americans have grown to love.
Traditional sweeteners—from sucrose, or table sugar, to high-fructose corn syrup—are an increasing concern to consumers and lawmakers, who see them as a key culprit in America’s obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Now researchers at food giants, startups and universities are looking for new ways to make foods sweet without putting people’s health at risk. Some are testing out natural zero-calorie ingredients like monkfruit and South American root extracts that are so intensely sweet that they can add flavor without calories. Others are manipulating granules of sugar to make them taste sweeter. They’re also developing new ingredients that will block bitter taste receptors and make food seem like it has more sugar than it does.
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who’s leading the food titan’s sugar-reduction effort globally, says many companies are working on finding answers. Adding to the urgency: Some companies, like Nestlé, have self-imposed deadlines for lowering sugar content in food.
But there are big challenges to removing what has been a key ingredient in processed food for over a century.
For one thing, there are side effects to removing sugar: It not only adds sweetness but also functions as a preservative and adds texture, as well as contributing to the overall volume of food. Whole recipes have to be rethought when it is removed. And after finding an alternative, companies may face higher costs, supply constraints or regulatory hurdles related to the substitute ingredients.
“It’s very difficult, very complex. We still don’t have the magic solution that would replace sugar,” Mr. Roger says.
The push comes amid a widespread effort to put the brakes on sugar consumption. In a survey released by market-research firm Nielsen earlier this year, 22% of respondents said they already restrict their sugar intake. Most major food makers, including Mars Inc.,
, have pledged to reduce sugar in candy, children’s cereals and other products.
Last year, the federal government called out sugar consumption as a problem in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, recommending for the first time that people consume no more than 10% of their daily calories from added, or refined, sugars. Americans currently average 13% of their calories from added sugar, the report says.
Souring on Sugar
As more U.S. consumers snub sugar and artificial sweeteners, natural alternatives gain ground
Americans who restrict their sugar intake
Americans who avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame
Food products containing high-fructose corn syrup
Variations on how high-fructose corn syrup can be listed on labels
Increase in 2016 sales of products with natural/low-glycemic sweeteners