Developments in natural plant stevia offers up to 400 times the sweetness of sugar without the calories
Science offers real sugar alternatives to help reduce obesity
It was once billed as a viable alternative to refined sugar, a natural plant that could be added to foods to offer a healthier alternative.
However, stevia, which has up to 400 times the sweetness of sugar, has never quite taken off, the problem being its distinct aftertaste.
Experts at Tate and Lyle, a UK company that has switched from sugar products to innovative ingredients like stevia to improve nutrition, claim to have developed products that offer the same taste as sugar, without the calorific content.
Other breakthroughs are with substances such as allulose, offering the taste and texture of sugar but with 90 per cent fewer calories than sugar.
Nutritionists claim both could be used in mass produced products to replace sugar, without altering taste.
“A whole toolbox of alternative sweeteners are now on the market for consumers,” said Dr Kavita Karnik, director of nutrition and innovation at Tate and Lyle.
“The expertise exists to use a multitude of solutions, with a combination of fibres and sweeteners in products to maintain the functionality of products, and the taste.
“It is hard to change habits, even when you provide the knowledge.
“We have done a large customer survey behind choice, and taste was a major factor in that.
“Knowing something is bad for you won’t stop consumers from their choices but if it tastes the same that is a big step forward.
“We are working on a pipeline of rare sugars. Although not approved here yet, they are elsewhere in South and North America.
“We can provide other options into the public health arena to encourage better choices.”
A 2010 US study of 19 healthy, lean people and 12 that were obese found stevia significantly lowered insulin and glucose levels, and left participants satisfied and full after eating despite a lower calorie intake.
Food Minds is a US nutrition company offering scientific advice to meet public health objectives.
Allison Mikita, a senior director at Food Minds, said a variety of solutions can now be considered to help reduce sugar intake.
“It will never be just a one-solution alternative to sugar, it has to be a combined approach with plenty of options for the consumer,” she said.
Dominique Floch, regional technical director of Tate and Lyle, said food producers will look at some key areas before they consider a sugar substitute in their products.
“It depends on the price, how much sugar you want to reduce and the product itself,” he said.
“I’m not sure if it would be feasible to replace all the sugar in products with an alternative.
“We can make it cost neutral, if that is the target. Corporate responsibility will drive the decision-making of brands and the kind of reformulation they are prepared to do.”