Post Categories: November 2016

Trending Tastes: The Great Sugar Debate

trendcoverFirst artificial sweeteners were bad for you. Then high-fructose corn syrup was the enemy. Now finally sugar is having its turn in the spotlight, with recent studies implicating its role in heart disease and the rising levels of obesity. What’s the real story? And how are innovative CPGs responding to give consumers the sweets they crave without the guilt?

To start, let’s look at the current state of the sugar controversy. Over the last two decades, excess sugar consumption has been identified as one of the key drivers of rising overweight and obesity levels—contributing “empty” calories to diets and displacing healthier foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But it turns out this isn’t entirely new information. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed the sugar industry funded studies in the 1960s designed to implicate fat and cholesterol as the main nutrition enemies—and to downplay the role of excess sugar.

Getting past the sensational headlines and hype, it turns out that not all sugars are created equal—nor are they necessarily all bad. Sugar naturally occurs in fruits, vegetables, milk and some grains. It’s refined and added sugars—those found in things like baked goods, sweetened beverages, ice cream and candy—that can become a problem. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consumers limit their intake of added sugars to 10 percent or less of total daily calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also requiring food manufacturers to call out added sugars as a separate line on their nutrition labels by mid-2018.

Many consumers are already pushing back against high-sugar products. In response, some CPGs are turning to no- and low-calorie alternatives, particularly natural sweeteners, like stevia, monk fruit, xylitol and tagatose. These are especially popular with beverage makers, with a number of alternative-sweetened sodas already having hit the market. Other CPGs are reformulating products to take advantage of the natural sweetness of other foods. Think adding dried apples or pineapple to granola bars, canning fruit in 100 percent juice instead of syrup and adding yogurt to smoothies and frozen desserts.

Many of these changes are being made by the more specialty and natural CPGs. Only time will tell if mainstream manufacturers—such as some cereal makers whose classic flavors currently contain 40 percent sugar or more by weight— will jump on board as the sugar labeling requirements loom closer.