Sugar reduction: Can fruit and vegetable ingredients make dairy products healthier?

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages/Diana Miller
GettyImages/Diana Miller

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We catch up with SVZ's Johan Cerstiaens to find out more about the potential use of fruit and vegetable ingredients as sugar substitute in dairy. "What if by reducing sugar content, manufacturers could add value to their products?”

Excessive sugar consumption has been scientifically linked with serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Across the globe, regulators have taken steps to raise awareness of the health risks associated with high sugar consumption, including introducing stricter guidelines for recommended intake and taxing sugary products to incentivize consumers to opt for healthier alternatives.

But excess sugar consumption continues to be a problem. The World Health Organization says that only 10% of total calories per day – or around 50g in a 2,000-calorie diet - should come from added sugars. Yet in the US, adults consume 77g of sugar on average per day; in Britain, males consume around 52g and females – 44g on average; and in the EU, intake ranges from 7% to 25% of the total calorie intake depending on the country.

While dairy gets its slightly sweet taste from naturally-occurring lactose, added sugars in products like flavored yogurts and smoothies can contribute significantly to a person’s daily sugar intake, with children at a particular risk. A recent study on US school milk​ found that flavored milks in particular can have a significant impact on sugar intake in the lowest grade group, with some of the products sampled accounting for over 100% of the sugar allowance outlined in Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and others contributing 80% or more. 

And according to the new Food and Drugs Administration recommendations for healthy foods, in order to be branded ‘healthy’, dairy foods must contain just 2.5g of sugar. Over in Europe, the UK government is also mulling over a potential ban on promoting high-sugar products.

 “It’s been a challenging decade for sugar’s public image,”​ explained Johan Cerstiaens, commercial director at ingredients company SVZ. “Conversations around reformulation often focus on the challenge of preserving consumer appeal, but what if by reducing sugar content, manufacturers could add value to their products?” 

While consumers want to reduce the level of added sugar that comes from their food intake, many are unwilling to sacrifice taste. In a recent industry report published by FONA International on Sugar & The Voice of the Consumer, 70% stated that taste is more important to them than grams of sugar per serving, suggesting they would still reach for a high-sugar product if it delivered a more satisfying taste experience. Some manufacturers have turned to artificial additives and sweeteners to tackle this challenge, but this too has its drawbacks. According to Euromonitor, nearly a third of consumers said they looked for terms such as ‘does not contain artificial sweeteners’ when shopping.

“Incorporating fruit and vegetable ingredients, such as purees, juices and concentrates, is a great way for dairy producers to add sweetness naturally, and without added refined sugar,”​ said Cerstiaens. “A classic option like raspberry or strawberry puree for example, can be easily swirled into yoghurts or ice-creams to add a burst of natural sweetness consumers can enjoy guilt-free.”

He added: “One way of taking sugar reduction up a level is to use white vegetable purees as a basis ingredient. White carrot and white pumpkin purees for example are designed to address demand for bases that are naturally neutral, nutritious and lower in sugar. The concept is based on the principle that ‘less creates more’; a neutral colour and flavour palette means other formulation elements can shine through, while multiple functionalities mean brands can keep ingredients lists short and clean.”

Various on-pack health claims regarding ingredients can be enabled, too. “To offer a few specific examples, blueberries or kiwi fruits are high in fibre, vitamin C, and antioxidant polyphenols, making them a great addition to better-for-you yoghurts,”​ explained Cerstiaens.

He concluded: “Whether it’s classic strawberry puree or something more unconventional like white pumpkin juice, fruit or vegetable ingredients help producers tackle multiple consumer demands simultaneously. As an alternative to both refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, fruit purees and concentrates offer a subtly sweet flavour to off-set any sourness from a fermented yogurt or plant-based milk alternative, without adding any ‘nasties’ to the ingredients list.”

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