Reducing added sugars in beverages
The clock is ticking for beverage makers to reformulate products ahead of implementation of the new Nutrition Facts Panel.

The 2015 installment of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans directly addresses sugar consumption by recommending consumers limit “added sugar” intake to 10% or less of calories. The emphasis is on added sugars, not inherent sugars, such as the lactose found in milk or the fructose in an apple.

The government responded to the recommendations on May 20 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) issued mandatory changes to the Nutrition Facts that appears on most packaged foods sold in the United States. Supporters say the changes are designed to help consumers make informed decisions about the foods they eat and feed their families and will assist with reducing added sugar intake from historically empty-calorie foods, such as soft drinks.

Most beverage manufacturers will need to declare the grams and the per cent daily value (%D.V.) for added sugars on labels by July 26, 2018, according to the new regulations. Other required changes will make the added sugars declaration more impactful on certain package sizes, which will likely drive some manufacturers to simultaneously update the Nutrition Facts and reduce package volume.

Grab-and-go bottles intended to be consumed as a single serving, even though they may contain more than one recommended serving size, now will be required to be labeled to show nutrition information as an individual serving. For example, a 12-oz protein shake now will show information as a single serving, rather than listing information for an 8-oz serving, with the fine print stating the bottle contains 1.5 servings. A 20-oz soda is also now a single serving.

Defining added sugars

The F.D.A. is offering significant revision and clarification to its definition of “added sugars,” as there was a great deal of ambiguity in early discussions, said Cary Frye, vice-president-regulatory and scientific affairs, International Dairy Foods Association (I.D.F.A.), Washington.

Added sugars are defined as “sugars (that) are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such,” according to a summary by the I.D.F.A. of the new labeling regulations. This includes sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides); sugars from syrups and honey; and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type. Further, added sugars only include the actual sugar portion of the sweetening ingredient, and do not include the weight of water or other constituents.

This is different from previously proposed language stating that added sugars include “naturally occurring sugars that are isolated from a whole food and concentrated so that sugar is the primary component (e.g., fruit juice concentrates).”

Reducing added sugars in beverages
Grab-and-go bottles intended to be consumed as a single serving, even though they may contain more than one recommended serving size, now will be required to be labeled to show nutrition information as an individual serving.

The F.D.A. clarifies a manufacturer must declare as added sugars the amount of sugar in a juice concentrate that is above and beyond what would be contributed by the same volume of the same type of juice that is reconstituted to 100%. For example, if 15 grams of concentrated apple juice, which has 6 grams of sugars, is added to sweeten a smoothie and the same amount (15 grams) of 100% apple juice contains 1.7 grams of sugar, 4.3 grams of the sugars in the apple juice concentrate would be considered added sugars in the smoothie.

There are some exceptions on what qualifies as an added sugar. Juice concentrates are exempt if added to 100% juices, 100% juice blends or diluted juice beverages when they are counted toward the per cent juice declaration or are used for Brix standardization. Also, 100% fruit or vegetables juices are not added sugars.

Dairy ingredients, including those in which lactose is the primary component, are not considered a source of added sugars, although purified lactose is an added sugar. For example, such dried and concentrated dairy ingredients as whey, nonfat dry milk and milk protein concentrate, as well as fluid milk or even unsweetened yogurt, all contain the naturally occurring sugar lactose. If the ingredients are added to a beverage for a purpose other than sweetening, most likely to boost protein content, they are not considered an added sugar.

Technologies to aid reduction

With both juices and dairy ingredients, there are technologies to enhance their sweetness without affecting the added sugar declaration. The technologies also do not influence calories or total sugar content.

For example, thaumatin is a plant extract recognized for its taste-enhancement properties. Being approximately 2,000 to 3,000 times sweeter than sucrose, the natural flavor is water soluble and stable to heat and pH, making it useful in most applications. It is a protein and therefore contains four calories per gram, but because of its intense sweetness, usage levels are very low and it therefore contributes negligible calories.

In the 1970s, emphasis was placed on thaumatin’s sweetening properties and for some time this defined its regulatory and marketing path. Today, thaumatin has GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as a flavor enhancer; it does not have approval as a sweetener. It appears on ingredient statements as “natural flavor.”

Thaumatin is known to mask off tastes, in particular those associated with some high-intensity sweeteners. It also enhances flavors and improves the taste of sugar and salt replacers. It combines well with other sweeteners, helping extend and enhance the flavor profile and length of delivery.

Reducing added sugars in beverages
Juice concentrates are exempt if added to 100% juices, 100% juice blends or diluted juice beverages when they are counted toward the per cent juice declaration.

With dairy ingredients, the sweetness of the inherent lactose may be amplified through the addition of the enzyme lactase. Lactases have a long history in the development of lactose-free dairy, enabling lactose-intolerant consumers to enjoy dairy with peace of mind.

Lactase is a relatively non-sweet disaccharide. Its sweetness index is 16, with sucrose being 100. When lactose is broken down by lactase enzyme into its constituent monosaccharides, glucose and galactose, its sweetness is increased approximately three-fold. By incorporating lactase into a dairy-containing beverage, not only is sweetness enhanced, but a lactose-free claim is possible.

Another way to enhance sweetness is through the use of some fiber ingredients, most notably chicory root, also known as inulin. When added to beverage formulations, sweetness may be enhanced while fiber content increases.

“Some of these products are as high as 65% the sweetness of sugar, yet still 
contain at least 75% dietary fiber,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. “Chicory root fiber is synergistic with high-intensity sweeteners and has masking properties to help provide a clean sweetness.”

Taking a systems approach

Many beverage formulators anticipated the Nutrition Facts labeling change and have been trying to reduce added sugars in current products. In new product development, they have made lowering added sugars a priority. This may sound easier than it is, as table sugar, also known as sucrose, not only adds desirable sweetness to beverages, it also contributes mouthfeel and even impacts color in 
some beverages.

When reducing added sugars in beverages, high-intensity sweeteners often are used in conjunction with traditional sweeteners and/or bulking agents in order to achieve the best sweetness profile along with other desirable functionalities. High-intensity sweeteners are many times sweeter than sucrose, and thus significantly smaller amounts are needed to achieve the same level of sweetness. The greatest challenge when working with high-intensity sweeteners is to identify the right balance of ingredients to achieve desired sweetness while also providing necessary mouthfeel and appearance.

“The decision tree can be complex when selecting a sweetening system,” said Thom King, president of Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore. “Each sweetener will have 
different physical, chemical and sweetening properties, so finished product attributes and ingredient functionality are important considerations.

“The presence or absence of other ingredients can magnify or mute sweetener tendencies. When certain sweeteners are used in tandem, their value exceeds their solo contribution. Making the most of synergies optimizes flavor while lowering the use levels, ultimately reducing costs.”

Part of the decision tree referenced by Mr. King includes finished product descriptors and label claims. Currently in the United States there are eight high-intensity sweeteners available to beverage manufacturers. Six of them — acesulfame potassium (ace-K), advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose — are regulated by the F.D.A. as food additives and are considered to be artificial sweeteners. The other two — monk fruit and stevia — are regulated as GRAS ingredients and considered to be natural sweeteners.

All but one of the high-intensity sweeteners are further classified as non-nutritive, meaning they are low in calories or contain no calories at all. The exception is aspartame, which does contain calories. Because aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar, not much is used to achieve desired sweetness, and therefore it typically contributes negligible calories to a formulation.

Reducing added sugars in beverages
Stevia and monk fruit are two high-intensity sweeteners formulators are pursuing because of their natural, clean label reputation.

“Since its introduction more than 25 years ago, aspartame has revolutionized the food industry due to its clean sweet taste that is closer to the taste of sugar than any other high-intensity sweetener,” said Ihab Bishay, senior director-applications development, Ajinomoto North America Inc., Itasca, Ill. “Aspartame is made up of components naturally occurring in common foods, such as dairy products, grains, meats and juices, and is metabolized by the body.”

Aspartame is not heat stable, which limits its use. In beverage, it’s critical that it be added after pasteurization or other heat processing.

All of the other artificial sweeteners are heat stable. Saccharin has been around the longest. Discovered in 1879, it is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. In the early 1970s, saccharin was linked with the development of cancer in laboratory rats, which led to placement of a mandatory warning label on saccharin-containing products. Since, more than 30 human studies demonstrated that the results found in rats were irrelevant to humans, and that saccharin is safe for human consumption. In 2000, the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health concluded that saccharin should be removed from the list of potential carcinogens. Products containing saccharin no longer have to carry the warning label.

Ace-K is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and often is used in combination with sucralose, which is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. Blends of the two are available for ease-of-use in beverage manufacturing, often times with blends being specific for beverage type, e.g., soda vs. iced tea.

The two most recently approved additives — advantame and neotame — have the greatest sweetness intensity. Approved in 2002, neotame is approximately 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Advantame was approved in 2014 and is almost 20,000 times sweeter than sugar.

Advantame has a clean, sweet taste and is known for enhancing flavors such as vanilla, chocolate and fruit. It may be blended with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup for partial sugar replacement to reduce cost and calories or with other high intensity sweeteners.

The two GRAS high-intensity sweeteners are the ones many formulators are pursuing because of their natural, clean label reputation. Both are based on plant extracts and are heat stable.

Stevia-based sweeteners are the more widely known of the two. Based on extracts (steviol glycosides) from leaves of the stevia rebaudina plant, stevia-based sweeteners are 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. The F.D.A. has received many GRAS notifications for use of high-purity (95% minimum purity) steviol 
glycosides, including rebaudioside A (also known as reb A), stevioside, rebaudioside D and steviol glycoside mixture preparations with reb A and/or stevioside as predominant components. The agency has not questioned any of the notifiers’ GRAS determinations. However, the use of stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts is not considered GRAS, and their import into the United States is not permitted for use as sweeteners.

The other GRAS high-intensity sweetener is monk fruit, also known as luo han guo (Siraitia grosvenorii). It is sourced from a small, vine-grown, subtropical fruit that gets its zero-calorie sweetness from naturally occurring antioxidants called mogrosides, which are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Additional reduction options

The most recent sweetener to enter the marketplace is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide that exists in nature. Recognized as GRAS in 2015, the ingredient provides the mouthfeel of table sugar, along with about 70% of its sweetness; thus, it is not a high-intensity sweetener. Rather, it is considered a low-calorie sugar, as it provides 90% fewer calories than full caloric sugar.

“Allulose may not be a high-intensity sweetener, but it is a very good match with many high-intensity sweeteners in the market,” said Yuma Tani, deputy manager of research and development, Matsutani, Itami, Japan. “It is a monosaccharide characterized as a ‘rare sugar’ and contains just 0.2 calories per gram, delivering true sugar flavor with no aftertaste.”

Reducing added sugars in beverages
One of the more common sweeteners to be used in beverage sugar reduction is erythritol, which has about 60% to 70% the sweetening power of sucrose with zero calories per gram. It occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes.

As a substance that exists in nature, allulose is found in small quantities in jackfruit, figs, raisins and wheat and is naturally present in small quantities in foods such as caramel sauce, maple syrup and brown sugar. Allulose has several beneficial health characteristics. When consumed, the body absorbs the allulose but does not metabolize it; therefore, it is not converted to glucose, so its calories are not available to the body, making it practically calorie-free. Unlike other caloric sugars, allulose has no impact on blood glucose or insulin levels.

There are many sugar alcohols in the market, each with varying properties. One of the more common to be used in beverage sugar reduction, especially in the natural foods industry, is erythritol, which has about 60% to 70% the sweetening power of sucrose with zero calories per gram. It occurs naturally in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, as well as foods such as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese. Since 2001, it has been considered GRAS. Erythritol does provide bulk, so when used in combination with high-intensity sweeteners, desirable mouthfeel is often readily achieved.

As the new Nutrition Facts Panel begins to appear on packaged products, the media will be educating consumers about the changes and what to focus on. Added sugars are bound to be a major emphasis. Beverage formulators have more than two years to manipulate sweeteners and other ingredients to reduce the amount of added sugars on product labels to better compete in the beverage space.