In the ‘battle of the bulge,’ formulators seek solutions to simultaneously reduce added sugars and calories.

Every calorie counts in the effort to lose and manage weight. Carbohydrate calories — added sugars in particular — have come under attack by consumer activists as over-consumption is associated with obesity and related illnesses.

“The baked goods industry has been criticized as being a contributor to the obesity epidemic because many products, especially desserts, supply nearly as many calories to the diet as sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Julie Miller Jones, PhD, professor emerita, St. Catherine University, and Scientific Advisory Board member, Grain Foods Foundation. “Strategies to add fiber and make grain products more nutritious allow bakers to help consumers reduce their caloric intake while also providing them with important or under-consumed nutrients in their diet.”

Choosing carbs wisely

Authorities recommend carbohydrates be consumed in much larger quantities than both protein and fat combined because the key role of carbohydrates is to deliver energy to the body. According to the World Health Organization, 55 to 75% of energy intake should come from carbohydrates. But not all carbohydrates are equal. Not all are readily digested, delivering 4 Cal per g, which is what nutrition educators taught some 20 years ago. Scientific advances have shown us that some carbohydrates have lower calorie content, while others have no or slower impact on blood sugar, which can affect overall calorie intake.

Armed with this knowledge, bakers, who rely on an array of carbohydrates — most notably flour and sugar — can reduce calorie content by replacing some of the traditional options with one or more that have better-for-you appeal. Such reduction can help balance the equation of “calories in, calories out” to assist consumers with weight management.

“The effects carbohydrates have on the body differ significantly — their digestibility, hydrolysis, absorption, blood sugar response, insulin release and even physiological effect, if they reach the large intestine,” said Joseph O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, NJ. “Most processed foods today are made with carbohydrates that are digested very quickly, resulting in high- to very-high-glycemic responses.”

Continual consumption of high-glycemic foods leads to constantly high blood-sugar levels and, accordingly, high insulin levels because insulin is the hormone responsible for maintaining blood-glucose levels within a narrow healthy range for optimum body function. The body produces insulin when it detects high levels of glucose in the blood and promotes the uptake of glucose into cells, but at the same time, it promotes the formation and storage of fat.

“Reducing the blood glucose response of available carbohydrates by modification of the glucose supply can be achieved by processing, by influencing the gastrointestinal passage and by a smart choice of ingredients, such as low-glycemic and slow-release carbohydrates,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Consumers are learning to choose foods with a lower-glycemic impact because this has been shown to have many positive effects on health. Carbohydrates are important in a balanced, healthy diet, but a smart choice of carbohydrates is needed. Consumers are also looking for products that lower overall calorie intake and contain less sugar.”

Marketing less sugar

When it comes to marketing ­calorie-reduced baked goods, Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ, believed it is better to promote the calorie or sugar content per serving, rather than labeling the product as being reduced-calorie or reduced-sugar because consumers often associate such claims with inferior-tasting products. “Given the ingredient technologies available today, this isn’t always the case anymore,” he said.

This inferior-quality notion stems from the fat-free craze of the 1990s. “Fat was the enemy in the 1990s, but today’s consumers have realized that fat is necessary in a balanced diet,” said Alyssa Turner, product specialist with Ingredion Inc., Westchester, IL. “Sugar, and reduction of added sugars, is a priority for consumers and, therefore, should be considered for claims purposes.”

Mr. Turowski added, “What manufacturers learned from that era is that reducing calories and removing unpopular nutritional components is not enough to sustain a brand. In order to succeed, the product must also taste good, and new ingredient technologies have made it possible to improve the nutrition of their products and still have great taste and texture.”

This is why bakers are being modest with sugar reduction, according to Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “They know they need to balance improvements in nutritional profile with consumer indulgence trends. Sugar reductions of 25 to 50% are possible in bakery items while still meeting consumer taste expectations.”

Manipulating ingredients

Understanding sugar’s role in baked goods is paramount. “Sugar provides flavor, soft texture, bulk and moisture control, among other functions,” said Troy Boutte, PhD, group manager, bakery, fats and oils, DuPont Nutrition & Health, New Century, KS. “So the ingredients we reach for when replacing sugar need to replace one or more of these functions.”

Polydextrose is an ingredient that can assist. “Polydextrose was developed as a sugar replacer and can replace the bulk that we lose when we remove sugar from a formula,” Dr. Boutte said, noting that it contains 1 Cal per g. “Depending on the application, it can replace 30 to 50% of the sugar.”

While polydextrose can be used to replace some sugar, increasing protein in the formulation can further replace the bulk that is lost from sugar reduction and yet add nutritional benefits, according to Dr. Boutte. “Enzymes, and in particular anti-staling enzymes, are also helpful,” he noted. “They can be used to soften baked goods that have been reduced in sugar. Likewise, emulsifiers help disperse shortening in sugar-reduced formulations and make the shortening much more functional, which creates a softer product. Similarly, hydrocolloids can be added to sugar-reduced formulas to help maintain moisture, reduce staling and improve overall eating quality.”

One of the easiest sugar-reduction tricks is to focus on the higher-moisture component, such as the fruit prep, filling, icing or glaze. “This is where sugar’s primary function is to sweeten,” said Amy Gilliland, technical manager, food ingredients division, Celanese, Irving, TX. “Sugar reduction is achieved through the use of high-intensity sweetener systems, many of which work synergistically with sugar, allowing a reduction in added sugar yet with sensory properties identical to the full-sugar control. For example, a blend of acesulfame potassium, sucralose and natural flavor can be used to replace sugar in fruit prep. It can cut calories in half and reduce added sugars by more than two-thirds.”

In the grain portion of bakery products, sugar is functional; you can’t just take it out and add a high-­intensity sweetener, according to Tim Christensen, senior research scientist and certified master baker, Cargill. “Bulking agents such as inulin, polydextrose, polyols, resistant maltodextrin and other such ingredients work well in replacing the functions of sugar, some more so than others, but most do not replace the sweetness.” This is where high-intensity sweeteners come into play.

“In many cases, polyols combined with stevia can replace sugars on functionality and sweetness,” said Eric Shinsato, senior project leader at Ingredion. “Crystalline maltitol can replace sugar one-for-one based on its crystal structure, molecular weight and relative sweetness. Maltitol syrup can effectively replace a corn syrup or other liquid sweetener depending on the desired viscosity or crystallization control. If the sweetness needs to be enhanced, stevia may be added.”

It is worth noting that polyols do not contribute to browning and, thus, do not add the caramelized notes typically associated with sugar. “Usage may be improved by optimizing the balance of functional properties, digestive tolerance and labeling preference,” he added.

Texture also must be considered. “A number of gums can be beneficial in bringing back lost texture caused by sugar or calorie reduction in baked goods,” said Steven Baker, food scientist, TIC Gums, White Marsh, MD. “For example, combinations of cellulose, xanthan and guar gums provide lubricity to baked products. This brings back the characteristic mouth coating, texture and overall eating sensation associated with full-calorie cakes and muffins.

“Many times gums have increased functionality through synergistic reactions with other gums, which leads to new and better texture and stability solutions,” Mr. Baker continued. “While gums are used for their functionality as texture modifiers, you may see some cost savings when replacing expensive ingredients such as sugar and oil with a more cost-effective gum-and-water combination.”

Protein contributes solids, too, and at the same time adds nutrition. “Our wheat protein isolates can be used to effectively formulate high-protein bakery and other flour- and grain-based food products, such as pasta,” said David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, R&D and innovation, MGP Ingredients Inc., Atchison, KS. Foods high in protein meet a variety of consumer needs, such as contributing to satiety, which is an important factor in reducing calorie intake.

Reducing calories, improving health

Another strategy in reducing calories is replacing the available carbohydrates with partially or non-available ingredients that act as dietary fiber. “Resistant wheat starch functions like a prebiotic fiber,” Mr. Whitmer said. “It can be used in a wide range of bakery products to provide dietary fiber and reduce calories.”

Health-related benefits of MGP’s type-4 resistant wheat starch were evident in a recent study conducted at South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. Scientists showed that the resistant wheat starch can lower blood cholesterol and improve body composition. These findings suggest this ingredient’s use as a plausible tool in the comprehensive management of metabolic syndrome. Previously compiled data demonstrated the ingredient’s effectiveness in blood glucose and insulin control, calorie reduction and the production of beneficial and energy-yielding metabolites through colonic fermentation.

Inulin and oligofructose sourced from chicory root are commonly used fiber ingredients in the baking industry. They contain about 1.5 Cal per g and, thus, they lower calories while also providing additional functionalities.

“Our inulin and oligofructose ingredients provide bakers with versatility by being exceptional fat and sugar replacers, as well as offering the digestive health benefits of prebiotic fibers and helping bridge the fiber gap,” Mr. O’Neill said.

Chicory root fiber works well in reducing sugar and, subsequently, the calorie content of cookies, cakes and other sweet baked goods, according to Mr. Turowski. “Chicory root fiber can have a sweetness as high as 65% that of sugar and provides humectancy to help maintain a desirable texture,” he noted. “This product has been used to directly replace as much as one-third of the sugar in cookies and brownies without affecting the taste or texture.”

Managing blood glucose can assist with decreasing calorie intake. For example, isomaltulose is a unique carbohydrate for balanced blood glucose profiles.

“It provides the same amount of energy as sugar (4 Cal per g) but is digested more slowly than sucrose, leading to sustained and balanced energy supply while eliminating the boost-and-crash effect of high-glycemic carbs,” Mr. O’Neill said. Various studies have shown consuming isomaltulose instead of high-glycemic carbohydrates can beneficially affect blood glucose, insulin levels and fat utilization. This is an appealing benefit when choosing calories wisely for avoiding weight gain or achieving weight loss.

Expect consumers to continue demanding products with fewer calories, a low-glycemic profile or less added sugar that can seemingly prevent the onset of non-­communicable diseases such as overweight, obesity and diabetes, Mr. O’Neill cautioned. “We don’t see these societal trends changing markedly in the future,” he said.