Spotlight on Salt, Fat and Sugar Reduction

22 Oct 2013

Watching the obesity rate tick slowly upward year by year, it becomes apparent that consumers struggle with controlling their weight. The health consequences of obesity, and the direct impact it has on health care costs, has seen government and health authorities continue to place pressure on food manufacturers to take action against obesity and help […]

Spotlight on Salt, Fat and Sugar Reduction

Watching the obesity rate tick slowly upward year by year, it becomes apparent that consumers struggle with controlling their weight. The health consequences of obesity, and the direct impact it has on health care costs, has seen government and health authorities continue to place pressure on food manufacturers to take action against obesity and help consumers make responsible dietary decisions. Consequently, sugar and fat reduction continue to be top priorities for food and drink manufactures in an attempt to lower the calorie load from sugar and fat, as excessive intakes of both nutrients contribute to weight gain.

Reducing the fat content of products presents challenges, from both a taste and functionality point of view. Fat not only adds energy-dense calories, but it contributes important sensory benefits to food and drink formulations, from the perception of mouth-feel, taste and aroma. When fat is removed from a formulation, these sensory attributes are compromised and in the UK, almost a quarter of consumers believe that taste is compromised in low fat products. The ‘naturalness’ of reduced fat formulations can also suffer, as, in place of fat, functional additives such as sweeteners and bulking agents have to be included to compensate for the loss of taste and texture. Reducing the sugar content of food and drink products presents similar challenges, with sugar adding both bulk and flavour. High intensity sweeteners offer sweetness without the calories; however, their typically artificial nature can put some consumers off, with the general shift away from synthetic food additives as well as their ‘artificial’ taste. However, the growing popularity of the naturally-derived high intensity sweetener stevia provides a low/no calorie natural alternative to sugar – but, as the artificial variants struggle to satisfy on a taste front, stevia has so far struggled with similar issues.

Attention has also been given to reducing the sodium and salt content across food and drink products. With the high amount of salt hidden in processed foods, our taste buds have been trained to expect and crave salty food, contributing to most individuals exceeding their daily sodium intake. Most food manufacturers have employed a gradual and stealthy approach to sodium reduction, to allow the taste buds of consumers to slowly adapt over time to less salty products. However, sodium-reduced products are often rejected on their actual or perceived taste, as they compete with and are compared to their higher-sodium equivalents. A range of different strategies have been employed to reduce the sodium content across processed foods, with salt alternatives and flavour enhancers all essential tools in the ‘sodium reduction toolbox’. A recent study examined whether the distribution of salt in snack foods altered the perception of saltiness. The results showed that a heterogeneous salt distribution better masked reduced sodium products than a homogeneous distribution, supporting a random distribution of salt when designing low-salt foods. At present, a multi-pronged approach to sodium reduction is required to tackle the current problems to overcome a range of issues from taste and acceptance of products, to food safety and food quality.

Sugar, salt and fat reduction will continue to be a research priority for food and drink manufacturers in an attempt to help tackle the obesity epidemic: however, considerable work to replicate the taste and appeal of these products is still required.

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