There are alternatives, of course — aspartame-sweetened diet drinks, sucralose-stuffed snacks, stevia-infused protein powders. But not everyone is a fan of fake sugar. Some cringe at the notoriously too-sweete taste; others cite the spotty scientific consensus on their safety.
Enter international food giant Nestlé, who announced last week that it has come up with a way of altering the chemical structure of sugar itself so that less is needed to provide the same honeyed flavour.
The alleged result? Less calories, same taste.
“Imagine if your favourite chocolate bar tasted just as good, but with much less sugar,” the company wrote in its release. “This could soon be a reality, thanks to a major breakthrough by Nestlé scientists.”
The company is currently trying to patent the technology with hopes of introducing it as early as 2018, so for now it is not releasing any precise details. But Nestlé said it plans to use the product to reduce the sugar content of its candy (or “confectionery products,” as the company calls them) by as much as 40%.
“It is sugar, but it is assembled differently so it can disassemble easily in your mouth with less going into your gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Stefan Catsicas, Nestle’s chief technology officer, recently told the New York Times.
But while the development sounds promising, it might not be enough to make a measurable difference in our diets. Here’s why.
Why less caloric candy probably isn’t the solution
So, if you have a sweet tooth that prefers candies like Smarties, KitKat bars, and chocolate chips, this new product might sound like great news. Less sugar in your candy means you’re consuming less calories when you indulge.
But what if most of the added sugar in your diet didn’t come from candy? What if it came from things like baked goods, snack bars, and soda?
Unfortunately, the latter scenario is the one that most aptly describes the diets of most Americans. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the calories that Americans are getting from added sugar (around 70%) come from processed, “grain-based” foods. That includes things like cereal, granola bars, breads, and cakes. The remaining third or so come from sugary drinks like soda.
But Nestlé’s new sugar product, at least as it is currently designed, cannot be mixed into sugary beverages, and the company has not yet discussed plans to add it to grain-based foods. “It is not something that can be mixed into your coffee” or used to sweeten soda, Dr. Casticas told the Times.
That means the new product might not do a whole lot for most of us in terms of reducing the sugar in our diets.
So what’s the best way to cut back on the sugar we eat? Cut back on the foods where most of that sugar comes from, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University (no ties to Nestlé the company), told Business Insider.
“The issue with sugar is how much,” said Nestle, “so reducing sugar intake from sodas and grain-based desserts is a good idea.”
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