Does Sugar Cause Obesity?

Posted on:August 12, 2018

“So, when you see someone who is obese…do you ask, ‘Is it too much sugar; is it too much carbohydrate; or is it just too [insert colorful adjective] much?” Professor Julie Miller Jones, of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, characteristically likes to get straight to the point, and she did so in her 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference presentation titled “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice? Is This Truth in Labeling?”
Rightly or wrongly, sugar has been identified with obesity and other disease states. To this, Jones (also characteristically) proffered correctives.

“Obesity is endemic around the world: People are terrified because, while we (Americans) may be [some of] the fattest people on the planet, other people are catching up really fast,” said Jones. The Internet hasn’t helped. “Internet media is filled with misrepresentations and accusations,” says Jones.

She pointed to an Internet link [] listing 146 reasons (and counting) why sugar allegedly ruins people’s health (e.g., dietary sugar can impair the structure of DNA). World organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization have adopted strong anti-sugar policies. In Chile, for example, any product with added sugar must prominently display a black warning logo identifying the product as “high in sugar.” World Health Organization (WHO) Director of Nutrition in Health and Development, Dr. Francesco Branca, went so far as to claim that, “Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet.”

So, are the alleged links between sugar consumption, obesity and other diseases supported by the science? Jones emphatically argues “no.” Much of the evidence claiming negative effects from sugar consumption is based on epidemiological data. “One thing that I want to emphasize to consumers is that epidemiological studies only show associations, not cause-and-effect. For example, we know that high-fat ice cream, low-fat ice cream and cell phone use are associated with obesity; we also know that sales of workout shoes and clothing are associated with obesity.” But these are only associations. High-level consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages can just as easily be marathon runners or people with poor dietary and lifestyle habits.

Sugar, per se, does not cause weight gain or diseases. Actual scientific studies claiming links between sugar and sweetener consumption to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular health or other disease conditions are problematic at best, said Jones. She deconstructed a list of studies claiming such links. Some studies were inconclusive; other studies overdosed rat diets with sugar.

“What we can do is associate excessive sugar intake and calories with obesity, and obesity with Type II diabetes,” said Jones. Ditto for excessive fat or protein intake. “There is also agreement that high circulating sugars in the blood are high-risk factors for a number of complications.” But high blood sugar levels don’t necessarily equate to high sugar consumption.

But, more fundamentally, “If you look at historic sweetener intakes, based on disappearance data, you will see that the consumption of caloric sweeteners as a percentage of the diet has steadily declined and, today, is at a slightly lower level found in the 1970s. But total calorie intake has risen, and people have become more obese over that period. What we find is that it is not grains; it is not sweeteners; it is not fat…it’s everything together: It’s the calories!”

Unfortunately, much of the public’s confusion is exacerbated by media obfuscation of already questionable scientific data, through misinterpretation and the use of misleading headlines. This encourages consumer media and non-profit organizations to create deductive links between sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease “…that we really don’t have the data to support,” Jones concluded.

This can have unfortunate consequences. One of the (several) benefits of dietary sugar is that it increases the palatability of very nutritious foods. Jones cites an example of “zealous parents in New York” that successfully banned the consumption of flavored, sweetened milk in schools. This drove milk consumption way down, “along with calcium, riboflavin and other important nutrients found in milk.” Eventually, pediatricians and parents realized their mistake and tried to return flavored milks to school lunch menus but, alas, kids had by then switched their beverage preferences to their detriment.

“We really need to be careful that we don’t, with good ‘motives,’ end up making the wrong, uninformed and untested choices that are detrimental, said Jones. In conclusion, it’s not the sugar: It’s the lifestyles and the calories! “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice? Is This Truth in Labeling?”

Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., CNS, CFS, LN, Emeritus Professor and Distinguished Scholar of Food and Nutrition, St. Catherine University

Problems with Labeling Added Sugars

Posted on:

New Proposed Nutrition Facts Panel 2018Food manufacturers take note: There still remains an important, albeit small (perhaps 1-1/2 year) window of opportunity for food and beverage companies to convince the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) to modify or eliminate its pending sugar-labeling regulations, according to Bruce Silverglade, Esq., Principal at the Washington, D.C.-based law and lobbying firm, Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC (OFW Law). Silverglade’s 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference presentation was titled “FDA’s Nutrition Facts Panel and the Labeling of Added Sugars.”

Provisions of the final rule Nutrition Facts rule can still be revisited through FDA guidance documents, use of enforcement discretion and/or issuance of interim final rule.

Why is there the need? The FDA’s pending regulations for “added sugar” labeling make no sense. The Nutrition Facts label of a snack bar, for example, will read, “Total Sugars 10g; Added Sugars 10g.” “You can say, ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘sugar free,’ ‘no added sugars,’ but not ‘low sugar.’ But the real stickler is ‘added sugars per serving,’” Silverglade said. The regulations, he maintained, are unworkable.

He listed five principle reasons: 1) the science to support sugar content rules is “tenuous at best;” 2) the pending labels are “confusing and misleading;” 3) the rules rest “on very shaky legal grounds;” 4) the technology currently does not exist to verify compliance; and 5) the regulations would put U.S. food and beverage manufacturers totally at odds with global standards.

First is the lack the scientific support: “A big part of problem is that sugar labeling regulation began as a political, rather than scientific project. So political science quickly overcame real science,” said Silverglade. “As a result, the FDA flipped and flopped and flipped again to develop rationales for the regulations.”

“Moreover, the FDA ultimately based its decision to require ‘added sugar’ labeling on the recommendation of the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which was heavily politicized,” asserted Silverglade. Subsequently, the FDA failed to submit its conclusions to a customary review by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). As it was, the foundational scientific evidence utilized by the DGAC to justify added sugar labeling was very limited and very weak. Presumably, Silverglade implied, the NAS would have noted this.

The second reason is label confusion: The FDA’s own research projected that 24% of consumers would be misled by the pending added-sugar labeling regulations, said Silverglade.

For example, an FDA study indicated that about 25% of consumers would choose a food higher in saturated fat and sodium merely because its “added sugar” label listing was lower than that for an alternative, higher “added sugar” product that contained healthier saturated fat and sodium levels. “This shows the danger of the FDA stressing a particular nutrient level to such a degree that consumers misunderstand the total nutrition label and take away the wrong message.”

Furthermore, under the pending regulations, continued Silverglade, a bag of sugar would have to declare 8g of sugar per serving on the Nutrition Facts panel and also 8g of “added sugars” per serving. “This is nonsensical!” said Silverglade.

The third reason involves legal concerns: The FDA is required to engage in “reasoned decision making.” If not, the FDA violates the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by engaging in “arbitrary and capricious” action. Silverglade maintained that the FDA did this in bypassing the NAS review process, thereby violating the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act. He also noted that, for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to make a case against misleading advertising, it need only show that 15% of consumers could be misled by a particular advertisement. But the FDA’s own research indicated that as many as 24% of consumers would be misled by the proposed added sugar claims. The FDA cannot, by law, mislead consumers.

Bruce Silverglade, Principal, OFW Law, graphic from his 2017 Sweetener Systems Conference presentation, SSC

A number of arguments exist as to why the pending requirement for “added sugar” labeling on the Nutrition Facts should be revisited.

There are also 1st Amendment issues (regarding free speech), continued Silverglade. “Under the doctrine of commercial free speech, companies have a right not to be forced to make misleading claims.”

In addition, the lack of existing technologies whereby to verify added sugar label claims will require extensive (and very expensive) record-keeping that will likely require access to confidential files by the FDA, thereby threatening companies’ trade secrets. And, finally, an “added sugar” ruling places U.S. food and beverage manufacturers well outside of the standards set by neighboring Canada and international Codex Alimentarius guidelines, thereby threatening their competitiveness. “Health Canada investigated ‘added sugars’ labeling and rejected it as being impractical,” said Silverglade.

Thus, it behooves U.S. food and beverage manufacturers to propitiously lobby for changes, while that narrow window of opportunity remains open.

“FDA’s Nutrition Facts Panel and the Labeling of Added Sugars,” Bruce A. Silverglade, Principal, OFW Law


Is Removing Caloric Sugars the Answer?

Posted on:August 9, 2018

Click to Enlarge T1R2 and T1R3 taste receptors are the primary detectors for sweet taste. Both control and knockout mice (lacking the T1R3 receptor) can detect caloric sweeteners, but mice without T1R3 receptors do not respond to artificial sweeteners.

“Humans have a strong preference for sweet taste, but that’s a problem from a health perspective. In order to develop reduced-sugar products, food formulators need to understand how sweet taste works,” said Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia. Completely eliminating caloric sugars from reduced-sugar products makes no sense, a concept that led to the title of her presentation: “Why No Calorie Makes No Sense.”

Reducing sugar content is a priority, especially when developing products for children. Food formulators already have a large tool box, including non-nutritive sweeteners, high-potency sweeteners, sugar alternatives, polyols, sensory interactions and physical approaches. But this is not enough.

About 20 years ago, the taste receptors for sweet and umami were discovered. According to Rawson, these T1R genes are believed to have evolved from species that lived more than 400 million years ago. Evolution matches sensory apparatus to nutrition requirements, and each species must solve the fundamental problem of obtaining sufficient nutrients while avoiding being poisoned. Sugars provide a rapidly accessed source of calories necessary for omnivore survival. By replacing caloric sweeteners with non-caloric ones, we are trying to fool Mother Nature. But this is not working, because the brain response to non-caloric sweeteners is different than the response to caloric sweeteners.

To understand sweet taste, one needs to understand taste detectors. The tongue’s taste cells are the initial chemosensors of the alimentary tract. The tongue contains papillae, and taste buds line the mucus-filled cavities of these papillae. In order for a food to be perceived as sweet, a compound has to get to the cells in these crevices.

Rawson explained that there are three types of taste cells within each taste bud. Type I taste cells are probably involved in tasting salt and managing ionic concentration. Type II cells are responsible for detecting sweet, umami and bitter tastes. When activated, Type II cells release ATP, which communicates with type III cells and nerves.

T1R2 and T1R3 taste receptors are the primary detectors for sweet taste. Both control mice and knockout mice (lacking the T1R3 receptor) respond to caloric sweeteners, but the response to artificial sweeteners is eliminated in knockout mice. An independent sugar-detection pathway is made up of glucose transporters. These transporters take up glucose, which is metabolized to generate ATP, leading to downstream signaling and sweet detection. (See chart “Taste Receptors for Sweet and Umami Perception.”)

There are also brush border digestive enzymes (BBE) located in the taste buds. These BBE and amylases are present in sufficient quantity to break down starches and disaccharides into glucose and fructose. This enzymatic pathway is sufficiently active to con- tribute to sweet detection. If you eliminate both the T1R3 and enzyme pathways, you abolish the response to disaccharides.

The second sweet-detection pathway is sensitive only to sugars that can be transported by glucose transporters, i.e., monosaccharides. Non-nutritive sweeteners only act on the first pathway. Nutritive sweeteners act on both pathways, although these are not equal. Thus, taste cells are providing information on both perceptual and nutritional quality. A new definition of sweet will need to encompass the ability of taste cells to detect caloric content.

Is it possible to shift preference for sweet foods? Paul Wise and colleagues reduced dietary sugar intake of subjects by 40% vs. a control group. After four months, subjects in the low-sugar group perceived a pudding as sweeter. But this effect did not persist. One month after discontinuing the reduced-sugar diet, the subjects went back to baseline.

Shifting preference for sweet is going to be harder than shifting preference for salt. Some people have a lot of alpha amylase enzyme, while others don’t have as much. This variation alters the sensory response to polysaccharides. Genetic
variation counts for 23-30% of the total phenotypic variation in perceived intensity across a set of sweeteners, which influences, but does not fully account for, differences in our sweet-taste experience.

Humans have an inborn drive for sources of energy, driven by 400 million years of evolution. So, we are not going to fool Mother Nature very easily. The true target for a sweetener needs to include a caloric component. Companies should strive for sugar reduction, not elimination.

“Why No Calorie Makes No Sense,” Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center

What Are Consumers’ Attitudes Toward Sweeteners

Posted on:August 8, 2018

Tom Vierhile, MBA, Innovation Insights Director with the UK-based data management company GlobalData, gave a thoughtful discussion on consumer feelings about sweeteners that ended with a summary of unique future developments in sugar reduction.

He began his presentation, “Sweeteners in the Crosshairs: How Do Consumers Really Feel About Sweeteners and are These Feelings Changing?” by giving a brief introduction to GlobalData. He noted that it tracked innovation in over 50 markets to discover game-changing product trends through an organized trend framework that revealed eight me-ga-trends and 63 sub-trends.

“Globally, 54% of consumers are paying attention to the ingredients in their foods and drinks,” explained Vierhile. “Growing interest in ‘cleaner’ foods; rising worries about food allergies; and food contamination issues are making consumers more ‘ingredient-aware,’” he stated. Ingredient concerns tend to be much higher for products targeted to children.

Consumers are actively trying to reduce consumption of sugar and fat because of their perceived negative impact on health. A majority of consumers are either trying to reduce sugar consumption or consume it in moderation. Concern about sugar tends to rise with age, and consumers are increasingly linking sugar with weight gain. Obesity issues have escalated universally, and the U.S. leads the pack. Sugar taxes and education are seen as tools to change behavior.

“Views toward specific sweeteners are as varied as the sweeteners themselves; for example, agave, stevia and honey are seen as most healthful with just over one third of consumers globally saying each has a positive health impact,” Vierhile claimed.

Globally, aspartame is viewed more negatively now than high-fructose corn syrup. Sweeteners derived from nature are more likely to have a positive perception than sweeteners that are not. This explains honey’s health halo, with 77% of consumers globally (63% of Americans) believing honey has a positive impact on health.

But views toward honey and stevia are changing. Honey cannot escape worries about chronic health issues like obesity or type 2 diabetes. The positive “buzz” around honey may be easing because of these concerns. Stevia is in the opposite position as honey. Worries about obesity may be helping stevia, as consumers learn more about it. Not ingredient experts, but a surprisingly high percentage of consumers globally say they are not familiar with the sweeteners xylitol, monk fruit, agave and erythritol.

Regarding sweetener claims, Vierhile stated that “little consensus exists.” No single sweetener claim emerges as the most attractive to consumers, as it is perceived that eliminating sugar comes at a cost, since sugar substitutes have their own issues.

Few differences are seen by consumers between “no added sugar” and “low sugar” claims. However, the “no added sugar” claim is viewed as appealing for younger consumers “when offered in a more natural state, and unsweetened products are perceived as more healthful, but lacking in taste appeal.”

Mixed results show that there may be no magic bullet for sweeteners. Replacing one artificial sweetener with another one backfired for Pepsi, as consumers wanting the original aspartame-based formulation rebelled. In Australia, Coca-Cola ran into resistance rolling out Coca-Cola No Sugar to replace Coca-Cola Zero (both with aspartame). Sugar reduction tends to focus on soft drinks and confectionery. However, many other categories offer reduction opportunities, including bread, wine and even meat, with Applegate Naturals launching the first sugar-free bacon.

In the future, re-engineering sugar to be less caloric has promise. Nestle has developed a new process that takes sugar and changes its physical structure. New hollow sugar crystals are said to dissolve faster and deliver identical sweetness as regular sugar, with fewer calories.

“Artificial sweeteners may be in for a rough ride,” Vierhile pre-dicted. Recent studies have found associations with negative health impacts on weight gain, type 2 diabetes and other health issues from non-nutritive sweeteners.

“Sweeteners in the Crosshairs: How Do Consumers Really Feel About Sweeteners and are These Feelings Changing?” 
Tom Vierhile, Innovation Insights Director, for GlobalData

Challenges and Solutions: Managing a Clean Label Supply Chain

Posted on:August 6, 2018
Cost-Implications-Will Lennon-2018-CLC

The cost of replacing various ingredients with clean label alternatives can pose challenges for product developers. Click on image to see a larger chart.

“As you have all probably come to realize by now, we are dealing with a clean label market that is still quite immature,” said Will Lennon, MBA, Chief Operating Officer, Imbibe, a beverage development company. “This means that pricing hasn’t yet equilibrated; information isn’t yet transparent; and raw material supply is still inconsistent.”

Lennon outlined some of the specific challenges confronting the clean label category in his presentation “Challenges and Solutions for Managing a Clean Label Supply Chain,” at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. On the ingredient side, for example, there is cost: clean label colors may cost five times more than the artificial colors they replace and require higher concentrations of use and shorten product shelflives. Clean label products may also require expensive packaging upgrades: A conventional cold-filled beverage, thanks to conventional preservatives, may now require hot-filling, along with much higher packaging material costs.

Lennon illustrated with a case study, “…a large consumer products company wanted us to develop a clean label powdered beverage. (Although the customer desired a freeze-dried berry powder, the cost was prohibitive.) So, we found a drum-dried berry powder, at half the cost, that we could blend with the freeze-dried powder to bring ingredient costs into line.” Product developers really need to press upon ingredient suppliers to provide acceptable clean label options. But, they should also establish a hierarchy of expectations. “Clean label can mean many things, and often, not all those needs can be met,” added Lennon. Does clean label mean minimally processed or preservative-free? Choices must be prioritized.

Clean label product development must also deal with capacity constraints. Normally, companies use contract manufacturers to launch new product lines to hedge their overhead risks. Today, limited capacity exists for clean label manufacturing and “large, billion-dollar companies are sequestering big parts of that capacity,” said Lennon. This results in larger up-front commitments for minimum-order production quantities and ingredient and packaging material inventories. “We also now demand that our suppliers stock three-to-four months of key-ingredient inventory, and many aren’t ready for this,” said Lennon. In some cases, key ingredients come in from overseas, further lengthening and complicating supply chains. Thus, both suppliers and manufacturers need to think about how much up-front risk they are willing to assume in case of product failure. And, warned Lennon, these supply chain challenges will only increase as large companies, such as Mondeléz, Weight Watchers, Kellogg’s and others enter the category.

An additional complication is that many new clean label ingredients originate from single suppliers and, overlooking the risks inherent to working with single-source suppliers (e.g., fires, bankruptcy), very little price competition or transparency exists when negotiating prices. Companies must thus make major commitments that can make or break their new product introductions, based on very little information.

Lennon cited the case of a single-source brown rice protein supplier that was building a plant in China due to be completed in four months’ time. Its ingredient may be key, but should the customer assume the risk of contracting with that supplier? “Reputational risk is another soft cost to consider and, often, you have little control over a suppliers’ ability to deliver crucial ingredients,” he added.

The only solution, in Lennon’s view, is to insist on complete transparency when discussing supply chain risks with both sup¬pliers and customers. Also, spend face time with each party to help avoid misunderstandings or mistranslations. “We had a Chinese supplier that claimed that their stevia leaf extract was organic, but upon discussion, it turned out that it was only the leaf that was organic, not the alcohol solvent used for extraction,” said Lennon.

Finally, there are the unforeseeable “hash-tag” costs imposed by fickle consumer trends and regulatory agencies (e.g., California Prop 65). These can place immediate reformulation demands on companies’ product development and procurement resources at a moment’s notice.

It is all heading in the right direction, affirmed Lennon. Clean label definitions continue to evolve, and supply will eventually catch up to demand, “but we are not there yet,” he added. In the meantime, get your operations team involved early in the product development process, and “be fully aware of and transparent about attendant risks,” advocated Lennon.

“Information on this page was derived from the 2018 Clean Label Conference Post-conference summary. See past and future Clean Label Conferences, which are annual events.

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