South Africa is experiencing a diabetes tsunami and consumers are in trouble. This is the stark warning of Dr Larry Distiller, founder and managing director of the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology speaking of ever-increasing diabetes numbers in South Africa. ‘Three-and-a-half million South Africans (about six per cent of the population) suffer from diabetes, and there are many more who are undiagnosed,’ he cautions.
A nutrient profiling model (NPM) is the science of classifying foods based on their nutritional composition. It is a primary benchmark that food products have to pass before being considered for any kind of health claim. Typically foods contributing high amounts of energy (kJ), fat, sodium and sugar content will result in negative scores. High fibre and protein content conversely attribute to positive scores.
Building on the NPM, the Centre of Excellence for Nutrition, North-West University and the Medical Research Council developed the Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) index. This tool identifies healthy snacks.
The most common snack foods eaten are savoury snacks, sweets, chocolates and biscuits. Energy-rich and nutrient poor snacks may contribute to weight gain (by adding sugar and fat to the diet).
Guidance that enables consumers to make smarter snack choices is essential. It assists in improving public health, decreasing lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. These conditions are collectively referred to as metabolic syndrome. Fortunately, developers, marketers and manufacturers are spoilt for choice in the pursuit to answer government’s call to positively contribute to public health.
Anke Sentko, Beneo vice president regulatory affairs and nutrition communication explains, ‘Sugar replacement needs to go hand in hand with lower blood sugar levels. Only then will it provide benefits for consumers and health professionals. Weight management and blood sugar management are related to each other. Lower levels of the regulating hormone, insulin, are beneficial for weight management and blood glucose management.
This can be achieved with lowering blood sugar levels. Replacing sugars with high glycaemic ingredients such as maltodextrin doesn’t help consumers in their efforts. High glycaemic diets can lead to the onset of type II diabetes and obesity. The target of reducing sugar should include lowering blood glucose response to support a healthy lifestyle.’
Various mainstream solutions are available in this quest.
Ingredients from Savannah’s innovation basket deserve a special mention:
Palatinose: Derived from sugar, this new generation ingredient is the only slowly released, yet fully digestible, carbohydrate resulting in balanced and sustained energy release. The caloric value is equal to that of sucrose (i.e. 4.2kcal/g) and the glycaemic index is 32. This classification is very low, making this the sugar of choice for weight loss and glycaemic control.
Orafti functional fibre: Extracted from chicory root, inulin and oligofructose are prebiotics. The product improves digestive health by selectively stimulating good bacteria in the gut. Influencing the caloric density of food, energy intake is decreased resulting in weight loss and body fat reduction. Inulin and oligofructose also reduce blood glucose response.
Both products are suitable as a naturally sourced sugar replacement.
Beta-glucans: These can lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. At least three grams of barley beta-glucans should be consumed per day in order to obtain the claimed effect.
The sugar conundrum
Carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) are a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic. In theory, this supports the sugar taxation proposal put forward by South African finance minister, Pravin Gordhan in his 2016 budget speech.
The World Health Organization recommends limiting calories from total fat and added sugars. It lowered sugar intake recommendations from 10 per cent of daily calorie intake to five per cent. This is calculated at six teaspoons or 25g of sugar per day for an adult of normal weight.
Added sugar in the diet refers to any caloric sweetener added into a food or beverage system that contributes excess, unwanted calories. Substitution with reduced caloric sweeteners like erythritol and xylitol, or non-caloric sweeteners like high purity stevia is some of the many strategies to reduce total calories.
A global trend is strong consumer desire for naturally sourced sweeteners with few or no calories. An increasing number of consumers aren’t necessarily thinking “diet” but are embracing a platform for a more balanced lifestyle. Both younger and older adults are looking for everyday healthier choices in the better-for-you category. The emphasis on the mid-calorie range is successful in several markets.
Plant-based, zero calorie stevia can form part of a well-balanced diet to help reduce energy intake without sacrificing taste. Stevia leaves contain sweet compounds called steviol glycosides. High purity stevia leaf extract, the ingredient form approved for food and beverage by regulatory authorities, contains 95 per cent or more of these steviol glycosides. It is this high purity form that has been rigorously tested and supported by PureCircle in more than 200 scientific studies. It has also been approved for human consumption by multiple major regulatory organisations around the globe.
Stevia does not contribute any calories or carbohydrates and therefore does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels, rendering it safe for diabetics. Partial replacement of caloric sweeteners with stevia can have a significant caloric reduction benefit, without losing the natural sweet taste.
In many applications the target when reducing sugar is not only to replace the lost sweetness, but also the mouthfeel and body offered by sugar. In this space, bulk sugar replacers or polyols (sugar alcohols) are considered.
Erythritol is a natural occurring sugar alcohol, found in foods such as wine, melons and honey. It is commercially produced by a yeast-based fermentation process. The sweetness level is 70 per cent compared to that of sugar. Due to its molecular structure, it doesn’t undergo fermentation by human gut flora and doesn’t cause digestive stress.
Erythritol can be effectively combined with a high intensity sweetener such as stevia to obtain the desired sweetness level. This makes table top sweeteners a popular application. It is the polyol with the lowest energy contribution at only one kj/g.
Xylitol is considered to be a natural polyol, although this depends on the manufacturing process. The product is naturally found in low concentrations in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables. It can also be extracted from various berries, oats, and mushrooms, as well as fibrous material such as corn husks and birch. Industrial production starts from xylan (a hemicellulose) extracted from hardwoods or corncobs. This is then hydrolysed into xylose and catalytically hydrogenated into xylitol. It is the only polyol that matches the sweetness level of sucrose with 33 per cent fewer calories. It is ideally used as a table top sweetener or in sugar free bakery and cereal products. Xylitol gives a cooling effect and is considered tooth friendly. It can however exert a laxative effect if overconsumed.
Isomalt is the only sugar replacer exclusively made from sugar serving as a 1:1 replacement without major impact on the process or formulation. It yields a natural, sugar-like mild taste with no after taste or cooling effect and longer flavour release. It’s considered the polyol of choice in sugar-free confectionery application. It also positively affects shelf life due to its low hygroscopicity.
The only concise strategy to lift the burden of lifestyle disease is to reduce calories with smart substitutions and moderate portions combined with an active lifestyle.