- Flickr/Andy Melton
There are alternatives, of course – aspartame-sweetened diet drinks, sucralose-stuffed snacks, stevia-infused protein powders. But not everyone is a fan of fake sugar. Some cringe at the notoriously too-sweet taste; others cite the spotty scientific consensus on its safety.
Enter the international food giant Nestlé, which announced last week that it had come up with a way of altering the chemical structure of sugar so that less is needed to provide the same honeyed flavor.
The result, according to the company? Fewer calories, same taste.
“Imagine if your favorite chocolate bar tasted just as good, but with much less sugar,” the company wrote in its release. “This could soon be a reality, thanks to a major breakthrough by Nestlé scientists.”
But while the development sounds promising, it might not be enough to make a measurable difference in our diets. Why?
Most of the sugar we eat doesn’t come from candy
- Courtney Verrill
If you have a sweet tooth that prefers candy like Smarties, KitKat bars, and chocolate chips, this new product might sound like great news. Less sugar in your candy means you’re consuming fewer calories when you indulge.
“It is sugar, but it is assembled differently so it can disassemble easily in your mouth with less going into your gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Stefan Catsicas, Nestlé’s chief technology officer, recently told The New York Times.
But what if most of the added sugar in your diet didn’t come from candy? What if it came from things like baked goods, snack bars, and soda?
Unfortunately, the latter scenario is the one that most aptly describes the diets of most Americans. According to the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the calories that Americans are getting from added sugar come from sweetened beverages like soda and processed, “grain-based” desserts like breads and cakes.
Only about 6% of Americans’ calories from added sugar come from candy, according to the US Department of Agriculture and the CDC.
But Nestlé’s new sugar product, at least as it is currently designed, cannot be mixed into sugary beverages, and the company has not discussed plans to add it to grain-based foods. “It is not something that can be mixed into your coffee” or used to sweeten soda, Catsicas told The Times.
The company is trying to patent its new technology and hoping to introduce it as early as 2018, so for now it is not releasing any precise details. But Nestlé said it planned to use the product to reduce the sugar content of its candy (or “confectionery products,” as the company calls it) by as much as 40%.
That means the new product might not do much for most of us in terms of reducing the sugar in our diets.
The real best way to cut back on sugar
- J. Annie Wang/Flickr
So what’s the best way to cut back on the sugar we eat? Cut back on the foods where most of that sugar comes from, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University (no ties to Nestlé the company), told Business Insider.
“The issue with sugar is how much,” Nestle said, “so reducing sugar intake from sodas and grain-based desserts is a good idea.”
This “grain-based desserts” category includes things like packaged muffins, pastries, and other pre-made items (in the US, many of these are disguised as “breakfast” foods).
A Starbucks “Bountiful Blueberry Muffin” for example, has 29 grams of sugar and 350 calories. And while soda is notoriously high in sugar, sweetened juices and other beverages (such as everyone’s breakfast favorite, orange juice) can be equally bad. A 12-ounce glass of orange juice has roughly 150 calories and 27 grams of sugar. That’s nearly the same amount of sugar as a bag of M&Ms.
So instead of fretting about the occasional piece of chocolate (which is OK in moderation!), you might want to focus on the areas in your diet where most of your added sugar is really coming from.