Low calorie sweeteners provide great opportunities for food reformulation

It is not a surprise that sugar reduction has so often been in the news headlines over the last couple of years. It has emerged as a key nutrition policy issue in the effort to halt the obesity epidemic, with scientific and medical organisations around the world acknowledging the need to lower sugar intake. Of course, food reformulation is one of the main strategies proposed as a mean to achieve sugar reduction. But the question that comes easily to mind is: how will we continue to enjoy our desired sweet taste in food and drinks without sugar? Can low calorie sweeteners provide a helpful solution in sugar reduction?

Low calorie sweeteners: sweet alternative in sugar reduction and food reformulation

There are a number of approved, safe and great-tasting low calorie sweeteners, with unique taste profiles and characteristics that can be used to replace sugar in food and beverages to provide a wider choice of sweet-tasting products with less sugar and fewer calories. The increased range of low calorie sweeteners, and the fact that these can be either used alone or in blends, is a useful tool in food reformulation efforts.

While sugar reduction is sometimes more complicated than ‘just taking the sugar out’, since sugar has other functional properties like providing bulk or textural qualities, innovation and advances in recipe development from manufacturers and the food industry have made possible the availability of a variety of great-tasting food and beverage products sweetened with low calorie sweeteners.

Public Health England endorses low calorie sweeteners’ use in new sugar reduction guidelines

In its recent report, ‘Sugar reduction: Achieving the 20%’, Public Health England (PHE) sets out a plan for how the whole food industry can cut 200,000 tonnes of sugar from their products per year by 2020. In this report, PHE acknowledges low calorie sweeteners have a useful role to play in calorie and sugar reduction and in food reformulation. The report recognises: “replacing foods and drinks sweetened with sugar with those containing no or low calorie sweeteners could be useful in helping people to manage their weight as they reduce the calorie content of foods and drinks while maintaining a sweet taste.

PHE also endorses the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific opinions on low calorie/non-caloric sweeteners, reminding that all low calorie sweeteners that are used in the European Union undergo a rigorous safety assessment by EFSA, and are a safe and acceptable alternative to using sugar.

This technical report sets out guidelines for all sectors of the food industry, including food manufacturers, retailers, small cafes and fast food restaurants, on how to achieve the 20% target by 2020 across the 9 food categories identified (cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets, ice cream, puddings, yoghurts, breakfast goods and sweet spreads), and proposes to follow the below three approaches:

  • reformulating products to lower the levels of sugar present, including with the use of low calorie sweeteners
  • reducing the number of calories in, and/or portion size, of products that are likely to be consumed by an individual at one time
  • shifting consumer purchasing towards lower/ no added sugar products

Of course, it has been stressed out that sugar reduction should be achieved without increasing the level of saturated fat within a product and, where possible, be accompanied by calorie reduction.

In Europe, the use of a low calorie sweetener in a food or beverage, in almost all cases, must also result in a product that has a total energy reduction of at least 30% (Annex II, Regulation 1333/2008 on food additives). For consumers, this can mean significant calorie saving from sugar, especially in light of recent recommendations to reduce the intake of sugars in our diet to less than 10% of our daily energy intake.

Used in place of sugars in foods and drinks, low calorie sweeteners can be a ‘sweet solution’ in food reformulation and provide the consumer with greater choice of lower calorie, sweet tasting products, thus helping people to meet the public health recommendation to limit their daily sugar intake.

Please click here to read the ISA statement welcoming the publication of the technical report by Public Health England on sugar reduction.

  1. Public Health England (2017) Sugar Reduction: Achieving the 20%. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/604336/Sugar_reduction_ach…
  2. Public Health England (2015) Sugar Reduction: The Evidence for Action. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470179/Sugar_reduction_The…
  3. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. (2015) Carbohydrates and Health. Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/scientific-advisory-committee-on-nutrition