Food Manufacturers Turn to Alternative Ingredients to Meet Growing Demand for Healthy Foods

One of the biggest trends in food today is the growth in demand for healthier products. For food manufacturers, this has resulted in pressure to replace unwanted ingredients with healthier alternatives – in particular, fat and sugar.

This shift is being driven by several factors. Most notably, consumers are becoming more health-conscious and we are seeing a shift in lifestyles in Asia Pacific – in Singapore, for instance, 98 per cent of consumers are reportedly trying to improve their diet. This has led to a rise in the sales of food and beverage products that are aligned to their current preferences. For example, total sales of healthy food products in China are expected to grow from RMB 237.6 billion in 2017 to RMB 300 billion in 2021.

Consumers are also seeking fresh, natural and minimally processed foods and are willing to pay a premium for health attributes, with 67 per cent of consumers in Australia and New Zealand expressing a willingness to spend more on food produced with natural ingredients.

At the same time, Asian countries are seeing high and growing rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity and diabetes. This has led to Singapore launching a “war on diabetes”, with a Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme devised to encourage manufacturers to produce healthier food products. Similar schemes can be seen across the region, as governments try to encourage healthier consumption to lower the population’s risk factors.

Healthier alternatives to commonly-used ingredients

Past research has shown that NCDs can be effectively controlled by improving one’s diet and cutting down on ingredients such as sugar. But what exactly does one need to do to improve their diets? With the proliferation of information today, consumers do not know and remain confused on what foods should be avoided and included.

Carbohydrates, for instance, are not created equal and it is crucial for consumers to differentiate between “good carbs” and “bad carbs”. The classification depends on how quickly or slowly a carbohydrate is digested and absorbed. “Bad carbs” refer to those with high glycaemic index (GI), which are rapidly digested and cause substantial fluctuations in blood sugar, and can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity; while those with a low GI are digested more slowly, prompting a more gradual rise in blood sugar.

An effective way for food manufacturers to support the fight against NCDs is to provide alternatives to consumers through the introduction of novel ingredients. Such products serve as an alternative for consumers to guide them through their dietary changes and provide opportunities for businesses to improve the overall nutritional quality of foods.

However, consumers are not willing to sacrifice on food and beverage flavour, and it is crucial that manufacturers ensure that the alternative ingredients used are able to retain the product’s original taste. This has led to the development of ingredients such as Palatinose™ (isomaltulose), a natural and low glycaemic carbohydrate made from sugar beet.

Developed by BENEO, which is one of the leading manufacturers of functional ingredients for food and feed, Palatinose™ is the perfect carbohydrate source for products geared towards consumers looking to prevent or are suffering from diabetes. It can provide all the nutritional and physiological advantages of a fully digestible, slow-release carbohydrate, thus resulting in an improved metabolism as the body burns more fat for energy.

Alternatively, food manufactures could also explore reducing the amount of glucose their products supply. Substituting fully available carbohydrates, which refer to sugars and starch, with partially available ones such as ISOMALT is an effective way to do so. Such plant-based options have a very low effect on blood sugar levels and does not trigger insulin release to any significant extent.

Replacing fat with plant-based variations

The most common and essential ingredient in food products is fat. However, the fact remains that most are consuming more calories than necessary, and many of them come from fat.

Growing concerns over the levels of saturated fats in foods have spurred changes in product development and generated strong interest in ingredients such as inulin. Commonly used in dairy products, various studies have shown that replacing fat with inulin has resulted in a significant reduction in fat content.

BENEO’s Orafti® Inulin is naturally derived from the chicory root, and with its neutral and balanced flavour, it is able to reduce the caloric value in products without compromising on taste. In addition, the benefits of adding inulin to products enables a “fat out, fibre in” message to be communicated to consumers.

The development and use of healthier replacement ingredients are not just a need for food manufacturers; it has become a fundamental part of the industry. Although more effort needs to be directed towards ensuring wide-spread adoption and consumption, significant strides have been made in the past decade as more people recognise the relevant health benefits.

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