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Weight Management's Not So Sweet Spot

Sugar, not fat, has become Public Enemy No. 1. Fruits, vegetables and natural sweeteners are aiding the fight.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Managing and losing weight is on the minds of many Americans. Holiday weight gain is real, says new research from Cornell University, and those extra pounds packed on between Halloween and Christmas can take more than five months to lose.

More than 65 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. Some 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 are overweight, and nearly one in five children ages 6 through 11 struggles with weight issues.

The solution is dieting, and an estimated 50 million Americans diet each year; but only about 5 percent manage to keep the weight off, according to Colorado State University Extension. Researchers from the Journal of the American Medical Association found most diets modestly reduced body weight and several heart disease risk factors. However, adherence to these regimens is low.

Even when dieting succeeds, it can create nutritional shortages. Adding micronutrient-rich foods or appropriate dietary supplements can fill the nutrient gaps. A recent study conducted by Nature’s Bounty Co. and its scientific advisory council member, J. Thomas Brenna of Cornell University, notes many popular weight loss diet plans don’t provide recommended levels of essential micronutrients, such as vitamin D, B12 and calcium.

One of the most universal recommendations from doctors is to consume more fruit and vegetables. Processors are responding with new products that can make these healthier substitutions a lot more attractive and satisfying to consumers.

X ReadyPackSoupkitReady Pac Foods ( features a rainbow of appealing colors and shapes in its growing array of Bistro Gourmet fresh salads and meal bowls. Savory spices with some extra heat add interest to salads, making them craveable without extra calories. Ready Pac’s new sweet & spicy Korean Chopped Salad Kit with gochujang vinaigrette does just that, delivering trendy ethnic flavors like Korean barbecue in a toss-and-serve salad.

“Chefs at top fine dining restaurants have been experimenting with gochujang on their menus, and it’s beginning to appear in retail products, so we looked at how to feature it in a new offering,” says Ready Pac’s marketing vice president Priscila Stanton.

Vegetables are featured prominently in the company’s relatively new soup line. Its Fresh Prep’d brand, available since September 2017, so far consists of five soup kits, each with a flavorful broth base and mix-ins of fresh, crispy vegetables and protein. Chicken tortilla, for example, contains fire-roasted corn, cabbage, chicken and tomato stock concentrate, white chicken meat, tortilla strips, black beans, jalapeno and cilantro.

Graceland Fruit NoAddedSugarCranberriesGraceland Fruit (, a Michigan dried fruit co-operative long known as an ingredient supplier, recently launched consumer products. Cherries, cranberries, blueberries, mango, “Berry Zest Blend” and “All-American Blend” are now available at retail. The cranberry product, for example, has no added sugar or artificial sweeteners and 10 percent fewer carbs and calories (130 per 1/4 cup) than conventional products, Graceland says. It’s also a good source of prebiotic fiber.

“The [cranberries] product contains 50 percent more of the natural cranberry center than conventional dried cranberries and has prebiotic fructan fiber that offers great texture,” explains Karsten Kotte, Graceland’s vice president of technical services. Adds Tara Rybicki, Graceland’s nutrition advisor: “Prebiotics help increase levels of beneficial bacteria in the large intestine – scientifically proven to support digestive health. This [also] contributes to feeling full.”

The cauliflower craze

More food companies are incorporating cauliflower in new products as a way to cut carbs and fat. It’s also paleo-friendly. “Ricing” is one of the most popular forms, and it has created success for both Pinnacle Foods, owner of the Birds Eye brand, and B&G Foods, which owns Green Giant.

Birds Eye has riced cauliflower with roasted garlic, sour cream & chives and savory herbs. Recent introductions are buffalo and ranch flavors. And the brand has mashed it with similar flavors as a substitute for mashed potatoes. Riced or mashed, cauliflower is a healthier substitute for the starchy originals.

BG Foods CauliflowerGreen Giant has done similar things by ricing cauliflower but also offers Veggie Tots, a substitute for potato tots. The Giant also “spins” other vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots, even beets) into Veggie Spirals that can be cooked like pasta.

Halen Brands’ ( From the Ground Up crackers, pretzel sticks and crisps replace wheat with lower-calorie cauliflower. Farmwise Veggie Rings ( look like onion rings but are made with chopped cauliflower, white bean and onion. Caulipower ( puts the white veggie into pizza crusts.

Cali’flour Foods ( recently sold out of its on-line 60-calorie cauliflower collagen wrap three-packs.

New kind of sweet talk

More than ever, Americans are connecting sugar with weight gain. Mintel ( reports 84 percent want to reduce their intake of the sweet stuff, and nearly 50 percent focus on sugar content when checking nutrition labels.

Weight management is the main reason consumers try to avoid sugar; some research indicates they currently blame sugar more than they do fat. So more Americans are searching for non-nutritive sweeteners that can help them reduce calories and sugars while keeping taste.

“There’s a very segmented approach to what consumers consider healthy or not,” said Danone’s chairman and CEO Emmanuel Faber to analysts and investors in February. “Sugar is clearly not what they want to see, but fat, including animal fat, is a trend that’s back. However, fat contains more calories than protein or carbs.”

Mintel reports 31 percent of consumers think they can lose more weight by cutting sugar than by cutting fat, and consequently steer clear of health problems. Many consumers (49 percent) are also convinced diet soft drinks that contain no sugar are just as unhealthy as regular versions, Mintel adds.

Chuck Lombardo, marketing/communications director at Graceland Fruit, said sugar concerns were a key driver behind Graceland’s retail cranberry product, which has no added sugar nor artificial sweeteners.

BHF B Balanced and B Strong FamilyIn March, Bolthouse Farms (, part of Campbell Soup, launched B Strong protein drinks and B Balanced smoothies as on-the-go nutritious drinks with less sugar. B Strong blends chocolate, coffee, vanilla or chai with 16g of protein but has 70 percent less sugar than “the leading refrigerated protein drink,” says Todd Putman, general manager of Campbell’s C-Fresh Division.

With the growth in plant-based foods (more than 8 percent in the past year), Bolthouse says it will also extend its 1915 Organic beverages in vanilla, chocolate and coffee; the drinks are made with pea protein and have no added sugar. “More people are making better-for-you, sustainable food choices,” adds Putman.

Eliminating artificial sweeteners paves the way for non-nutritive sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia and stevia blends. Recent development in stevia has focused on extracting rebaudiosides D and M, found in smaller quantities in the stevia leaf but which don’t have the bitterness or metallic taste of rebaudioside-A.

New Bestevia reb-M sweetener from Ingredion ( is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar but provides sweetness without bitterness. Suitable for beverages, dairy and bakery products, it was developed in partnership with non-caloric/non-GMO sweetener provider SweeGen (, part of Blue California. Bestevia affords more than a 70 percent sugar reduction.

Monk fruit is gaining more commercial applications. The natural sweetener is being marketed by Apura, Tate & Lyle and ADM, among other companies.

Talenti ( has a new line of three gelatos sweetened with monk fruit, with half the sugar of ice cream. Stevia, monk fruit and allulose combine in KetoseSweet from Icon Foods (, formerly known as Steviva Ingredients. KetoseSweet has 70 percent of sugar’s sweetness, the company says, and one-tenth the calories, so it won’t affect blood glucose or insulin levels.