Making our Case for a Little Sweetness

With the pressing need to reduce unhealthy levels of sugar consumption among consumers, the food & beverage (F&B) industry has invested much of its efforts and resources in developing sugar alternatives – be it through innovative technologies, or by making adjustments to existing recipes to match or improve the taste profiles of products gradually, so as to ensure that customers are not caught by surprise.

This has fuelled a growth in demand for ingredients that impart sweetness with significantly less or no calories, resulting in the innovation of low/non-calorie sweeteners (LNCS). LNCS enable food manufacturers to provide a wide variety of food products with varying caloric values and taste profiles.

While LNCS could serve as good alternatives to sugar, their collective reputation has constantly been challenged. In light of how they are the subject of intense public debate and scrutiny, Food Industry Asia (FIA) has set out to build a platform for wide-ranging evidence-based narratives around sweeteners and sugars.

An FIA white paper, titled “The Case for a Little Sweetness: The Role of Low/Non-Calorie Sweeteners on Health”, serves to do just that, by debunking the health- and safety-related myths sweeteners have been commonly linked with. It is the first in a series of communication tools FIA is developing with subject matter experts, to explore how sweeteners impact diet and health.

As part of its efforts to address the misinformation that has driven the negative reputation of LNCS, FIA organised two information-sharing sessions in Indonesia and Sri Lanka last month, to address common concerns relating to the safety and health impacts of sweeteners.

Ms Sabeera Ali, Nutrition Officer, Food Industry Asia (FIA) (fourth from right), and participants gather for a photo after an information-sharing session based on “The Case for a Little Sweetness” white paper, held in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 27 March 2018.

In Jakarta, FIA organised the session on the sidelines of the Health Ingredients (Hi) South East Asia Expo. Representatives from academia and the food and pharmaceutical industries were in attendance, and discussed the key challenges pertaining to the acceptance of sweeteners, as a result of misinformation and the misinterpretation of research studies.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia, which was present at the event, Ms Sabeera Ali, FIA’s Nutrition Officer, said, “The way information about LNCS is presented, especially online, lends itself to much of the inaccuracies, and it is not always clear to consumers which source is reputable. In fact, recent research has shown that LNCS can also help control sugar and calorie intake without compromising on taste, while also aiding in weight and glucose management, and dental health, when not taken in excessive amounts.”

She added, “Both the public and private sectors should work to provide platforms for people to voice their concerns, ask questions, and receive accurate information on LNCS.”

Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, Policy Director, Food Industry Asia (FIA) (centre in group photo), presents findings during an information-sharing session based on “The Case for a Little Sweetness” white paper, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 27 March 2018.

In a session organised by The Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka (NSSL) in Colombo, Mr Steven Bartholomeusz, FIA’s Policy Director, spoke to nearly 50 participants from the public sector, including the Ministry of Health, as well as representatives from academia and local food companies, about the need to look at science-based evidence in making policy decisions concerning the use of sweeteners.

Mr Bartholomeusz pointed out that the safety of LNCS has been assessed and approved by a number of regulatory institutions worldwide, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), prior to their use in foods.

FIA plans to conduct similar sessions in Singapore, Malaysia, India, the Philippines and Thailand in 2018.

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