Many consumers were unaware that removing sugar from products could lead to increasing their fat content, which might result in an increase in total calories, AB Sugar claimed.
Dr Julian Cooper, head of food science at AB Sugar, said when sugar was removed it had to be replaced with an alternative to replicate its many properties.
Not a straightforward solution
“The food and drinks industry has actively been looking into reformulating products for a number of years, in order to offer consumers a greater choice and, more recently, as one of the options available to help tackle obesity,” he said.
“However, reformulation is not a straightforward solution to creating lower calorie products.”
Over half (56%) of consumers surveyed by OnePoll said they expected reformulation to lead to a reduction in calories in a product. Almost two-thirds (66%) of people that favoured low-fat or low-sugar food and drink viewed them as healthier.
When consumers realised reformulation could increase calories, 51% said they were against the process and 56% of women said they would stay clear of such products all together.
“We are in favour of reformulation – including the removal of sugar – but only when it results in a total calorie reduction,” Cooper said.
“So, it’s of upmost importance for consumers to take into consideration total calories when looking at labels, rather than just focusing on one ingredient.”
Leatherhead Food Research’s nutrition research manager Roberta Re said consumers were also over-consuming low-fat products, this cancelling out the health benefits they could provide.
“Focussing on one ingredient can be misleading,” she warned. “What is very important to look at is the overall dietary intake and at the amount of calories we consume every day. Singling out one ingredient as the cause of weight gain can be not only too simplistic, but also misleading to consumers.”
Obesity was a very complex and multi-faceted matter and needed to be tackled accordingly, she added.
Watch Re and Cooper discuss reformulation and its unintended consequences in the video at the bottom of this article.
Other findings from the poll revealed 82% of people in the UK deemed themselves healthy and 57% admitted to trying to lose weight. A third of those (34%) said they focussed on cutting out one ingredient to help them lose weight.
AB Sugar has launched a new campaign, Making Sense of Sugar.
The initiative aims to help inform and educate people about sugar, the role it can play as part of a healthy balanced diet, and to help people to make better choices about what they consume.
For more information, visit the Making Sense of Sugar website.
Katharine Jenner, campaign director for Action on Sugar (AoS) said: “The message is quite simple. We are talking about reducing sugar, not replacing it with fat or sweeteners. Many food manufacturers have already demonstrated this is possible and have formulated products with less sugar and less calories. Now is the time for everyone else to do the same.”
AoS claimed the Department of Health should start the sugar reduction programme with sugary drinks and other liquid products.
This would see an immediate decrease in calories and an improvement on the nation’s health, Jenner claimed.