At the same time, consumers today have access to a wealth of information to understand the causes of chronic diseases and how to prevent them. This is driving them to take a more active role in their health, starting with their diets. In Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey, 70 percent of global respondents say they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. What’s more, a recent survey by Asia Opinions has revealed that Asian consumers are far more interested in healthy eating compared to their western counterparts, with 68 percent of Asian respondents saying they were ‘very interested’ compared to just 38 percent of western consumers.
Out of this, diets that limit sugar are among the most common. One of the major contributing factors to this is the growing body of scientific research that link excessive sugar intake with several health concerns such as tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The sharp increase in people affected by diabetes has also caused a surge in demand for healthier food options, and food and beverage manufacturers have an opportunity to reduce the sugar content in their products, and also to offer a wider range of reduced sugar options to meet this growing demand. For example, Nielsen’s study has also found that Asia-Pacific consumers place healthful food options at the top of their considerations the most compared to other regions when dining out.
Taste is still king
Although consumers are looking for healthier alternatives to food and beverage products, they are still very conscious about the taste and eating experience. In other words, a better tasting product would be more successful on the shelves, compared to an equally healthy but poorer tasting alternative.
To meet this goal of providing a healthy yet great tasting product, manufacturers use alternative sweeteners in their portfolio of food and drinks to either achieve low or zero sugar claims, in order to satisfy the consumers’ sweet tooth with less calories and negative side effects associated with sugar. However, true sugar replacement remains the holy grail, as it is difficult to fully replace sugar and replicate its unique physicochemical properties. This includes properties that affect processing, taste and texture such as the freezing point, browning effect, viscosity, specific gravity and water activity of sugar. This is why many of today’s alternative sweeteners come with trade-offs that cause them to be perceived differently to sugars by the consumer. Additionally, some high intensity sweeteners (HIS) leave a bitter aftertaste due to them binding more strongly to sweetness receptions.
Overcoming the challenges of taste and texture
Because every sweetener has its own physicochemical properties, no single sweetener can replace sugar in its entirety. In order to overcome this challenge, the latest technologies give manufacturers the ability to use the right combination of sweeteners to provide a better taste and texture profile. This also enables manufacturers to meet their sweetness targets quicker.
To do so, manufacturers will have to invest a considerable amount of effort and time to get a complete understanding of the range of sweeteners in the market and how each one will contribute to the overall nature of the final product. Critically, an in-depth understanding of how consumers perceive the subtle differences in sweetness types will require conversion of this sensory feedback into measurable, scientific terms. This is because sweetness has multiple subtle differences. For example, a fresh, fruity sweetness can be very different from a caramel, malty sweetness, and breaking down how the consumer would perceive each type with the help of consumer insights and sensory analytics is the first step to successful sugar reduced formulation. Additionally, specific processing parameters and production flow have to be considered to minimize disruption and ensure that cost targets are not compromised.
At Ingredion, they call this DIAL-IN Technology. This consumer centric approach is a mix of data, experience and process knowledge that follows a structured process to rapidly achieve the right product formulation, taste and texture that full sugared products have. Manufacturers will be able to isolate any flavor note that appeals to the consumer, which will form the basis of building up the exact flavor profile in their new product.
Fiber fortification in food products
There is also an emergence of consumers demanding food products with added health benefits, such as fiberfortification and calorie and carbohydrate reduction. Complementing the trend towards disease prevention, new product developments that are part of a high-fiber diet help consumers improve digestive health, weight management and cholesterol levels. As the significance of healthy foods gain momentum all across the region, an increase in consumer awareness and knowledge about dietary fiber and the health benefits associated with increased dietary fiber consumption is also on the rise. According to research data by MarketsandMarkets, this is especially seen in Australia, China, India and Japan, who lead the region in fiber consumption.
A high-fiber diet also reduces the risks of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation and colon cancer. The American Heart Association suggests that the daily value for fiber is 25 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet, yet the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) indicates that dietary fiber is an under-consumed nutrient and recommends consumers to increase their intake to reduce the risk of potential health concerns.
Challenges of fiber fortification
As manufacturers work to increase the fiber content in products, there is a constant battle between achieving positive health benefits, label claims and maintaining the appealing taste, texture and appearance of a product. However, fiber has come a long way, and today manufacturers are able to precisely increase the dosage of fiber, and have little to no impact on product taste, texture or appearance. Novel fibers can be easily applied to a wide range of foods including bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, breakfast drinks, snacks, noodles and more. Additionally, manufacturers are also able to achieve clean label and grain-free products with differentiated fiber claims and health benefit claims to further appeal to health conscious consumers.
Resistant starch – the hidden fiber
With the latest technology, manufacturers have access to a wider range of fiber sources, and it is now easier to incorporate fiber into foods. One example of an alternative fiber source is resistant starch. The unique appeal of resistant starch is that it is an invisible ‘fiber’ which makes it suitable for products like bread, pasta, fruit smoothies and protein shakes. This allows manufacturers to include fiber into everyday consumer foods, so that they can get the benefits of high fiber products without having consumers compromise taste or their food choices.
Resistant starches are fermented only in the large intestine and have bifi dogenic properties, which in turn brings a number of beneficial changes to digestive health. Resistant starches have been clinically proven to lower the risk of diabetes. Backed by over 80 published clinical studies, HI-MAIZE, an RS2 type of resistant starch made from non-genetically modified high amylose corn has been clinically proven to lower the risk of diabetes. It is also approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), resulting in a qualified health claim that will enable manufacturers to communicate the relationship between high-amylose maize resistant starch and a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes on the packages of conventional foods. HI-MAIZE also allows for clean label and gluten-free claims to be made.
As consumers become more health conscious, they are continuously looking for ways to deal with health risks. It has caused an increase in demand for foods to be healthier, packed with health benefits and taste just as good. However, with these latest ingredient solutions, manufacturers are able to rapidly reformulate or develop new products that can satisfy all the needs and demands of the modern consumer, allowing them to enjoy healthier food and beverages without demanding that they change the way they eat.
Source: Asia Food Journal