Speaking to FoodManufacture.co.uk as the Action on Sugar (AoS) campaign was launched, Jack Winkler, former professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University and food industry adviser, said sugar replacers were the best solution.
Given the fact that Professor Graham MacGregor, the brains behind Consensus Action on Salt & Health (CASH), was driving the campaign, Winkler warned manufacturers of sugary foods they faced CASH's trademark naming and shaming tactics.
The best way to avoid this would be to use sugar replacers, which had knock-on benefits for them, said Winkler, a global AoS expert advisor.
Confectionery and dairy goods firms in particular could easily find themselves in the firing line, because they had been slow to take advantage of the benefits of sweeteners, he said. Breakfast cereal makers also faced being named and shamed, he added.
‘Slow to adopt’
“Only two categories have really made use of sweeteners: gum and soft drinks. There are technical difficulties [with reformulating with sweeteners], but the food industry has been slow to adopt new technologies in other categories on a commercial scale.”
With the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) December opinion underlining aspartame’s safety, and solutions being devised for formulation problems raised by other sweeteners, Winkler said manufacturers should use them more.
Sugar substitutes cost substantially less than sugar, so offered extra margin if end products were priced similarly to full sugar equivalents, he said.
“If you cut part of that margin, you could give consumers a price incentive to buy the product. You could shift sales and companies would make a margin by doing that.
‘Not a cause of obesity’
Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the Food & Drink Federation, said: “Sugars, or any other nutrient for that matter, consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet are not a cause of obesity, to which there is no simple or single solution.
“That’s why the food industry has been working on a range of initiatives with other players to tackle obesity and diet related diseases through a number of interventions.”
A spokesman for Sugar Nutrition, formerly the Sugar Bureau, which promotes the benefits of sugar, said: “It is simply not right to say that reducing the amount of sugar in foods will always result in a reduction of calories. In most cases the sugar will need to be replaced by another ingredient and the reformulated recipes can contain more calories than the original.
Experts from organisations such as the British Dietetic Association, EFSA, and Institute of Medicine had shown that “diabetes is not caused by eating sugar,” she said.
Gaynor Bussell, freelance dietician and registered nutritionist told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The current Guideline Daily Amount for sugar is 90g. Surveys show we exceed this by about 10%; but pressure groups and some individuals are pushing for this to be lowered.”
AoS is spearheading a public health campaign to make consumers more “sugar-aware”, enabling them to avoid products full of hidden sugars. It is pressing for 20–30% reduction in sugar added by the food industry over three to five years.
Launching AoS, professor MacGregor said: “We must now tackle the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide.
“The present government and Department of Health Responsibility Deal has been shown to have had no effect on calorie intake and we must start a coherent and structured plan to slowly reduce the amount of calories people consume by slowly taking out added sugar from foods and soft drinks.”