Replacing Sugar and Fat Causes Extra Considerations for Processors

Those are top priorities for dieters and the new food pyramid, but more than just fat and calories are lost when they are removed.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Fat and sugar are a dangerous mixture. When combined, these ingredients have the ability to trigger obsessive behavior -- as anyone who has stared down a warm, melty, butter-laden chocolate chip cookie will attest. While their unenviable position atop the old Food Guide Pyramid affords them only about 10 percent of the real estate, a disproportionate 40 percent of Americans' total calories come from that spot.

It's no surprise, then, that cutting fat and sugar in the American diet is among the top 2005 program priorities of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Nor will it be a surprise if that effort takes up most of the time and effort of most R&D departments.

Cutting fat and sugar is big business. Demand for high intensity sweeteners and fat replacers is expected to amount to $1.2 billion in 2004, when all the figures are in, with high intensity sweeteners growing at about 2 percent per year. Fat replacers are growing at about 7 percent per annum, according to a recent report from the Freedonia Group (, Cleveland.

To replace sugar and/or fat, the whole formulation comes into play. Sugar and fat replacers come in several types, some appropriate to certain applications and others less so.

Fat replacers and mimetics

Probably the earliest fat replacer was starch. It was cooked into a paste and introduced with egg and oil into an emulsion commonly called spoonable salad dressing, which was a low-cost replacement for mayonnaise.

Starch products are still used as fat replacers, along with their derivatives maltodextrins, corn syrups and similar products. But new products, based on rheology and particle size distribution studies, have provided protein-based fat replacers (which reduce calories per gram from 9 to about 4) as well as rearranged fats that are not easily digestible by human enzymes.

Fat replacements -- products that can replace fat's frying qualities as well as the functions of fat in baked goods, dairy, and dressing/sauces -- generally are formed on a backbone of a fatty material such as glycerol, polyester or sorbitol. They are metabolized to different degrees, and some (the completely unabsorbed materials like Olestra) may cause temporary gastric difficulties, and may affect oil-soluble vitamins, unless this is factored into the formulation.

Even with much effort going into fat replacement, the most popular reduced fat foods are those that are relatively simple. According to a recent poll by the Calorie Control Council, among consumers concerned about fat, 62 percent use reduced-fat dairy foods, 50 percent try reduced-fat cheese, sour cream and yogurt, and 56 percent buy reduced- or fat-free salad dressings or sauces. Only 19 percent of lipid-conscious consumers opt for low-fat candy, and 36 percent use reduced-fat ice cream and frozen desserts.

While replacements generally can be used pound-for-pound of fat, there is a second class of products called mimetics, which replace some of fat's key characteristics in certain applications.

Carbohydrate-based fat mimetics tie up additional water in a formula to replace the bulk of fat. These products can't replace frying oil and work best in emulsions, such as salad dressings, baking batters and dough products.

Current emphases are on fiber, which reduces the calorie count, beta-glucan soluble fiber and polyols (which are also sugar replacers), because the caloric content can be reduced while maintaining water activity. These products all replace part of a lipid phase with a water phase, so water activity becomes extremely important to maintaining shelf life.

Protein-based fat mimetics can be used in dairy products, baked goods, dressings and sauces, reduced-fat meats and soups. They generally include egg albumen, corn zein, and whey. They may be produced by microparticulation, controlled thermal denaturation or a combination of systems to produce a functional protein that has the "slip" and mouthfeel of fat.

Sugar substitutes

According to the previously mentioned Calorie Control Council poll, 79 percent of the U.S. adult population (or 163 million Americans) use low-calorie and sugar-free foods and beverages. Two-thirds of Americans use such products several times a week or more.

There are currently five low- or no-calorie sweeteners approved by the FDA: acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose. There also is a number of reduced-calorie sweeteners (polyols) available in the U.S., including erythritol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.

"Low-calorie and sugar-free products can be part of a healthy diet, as supported by the [American Dietetic Assn.'s] updated position statement. Research shows consumers find such products helpful and would like to see more developed," says Lyn Nabors, executive vice president of the Calorie Control Council.

Like fat replacement, sugar replacement attempts to match various properties of sugar. If only sweetness is needed, there is a number of replacements that can do the job.

Saccharin is the granddaddy of the lot, dating back all the way to 1879. It's available in three forms: sodium saccharin, which is highly soluble; acid saccharin; and calcium saccharin, which is used in reduced sodium products. It's 300 to 500 times sweeter than sucrose. It has been largely replaced in processed foods by newer products that have little of the bitterness associated with saccharin, but it remains a popular coffee sweetener in packets.

Acesulfame potassium â€" acesulfame K or ace-K -- is good for foods that are not baked or heated above 200°F. Ace-K is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is sold under the brand name Sunett by Nutrinova Inc. (, Somerset, N.J., a business unit of Celanese AG. Although a key patent expires in March, Nutrinova also holds two patents on intermediates in the manufacturing process of ace-K, which are valid in the U.S. until 2008, and more than 30 additional patents on the processes.
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