Sugar reduction/reformulation special edition

Sugar in the time of COVID

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Excessive sugar consumption is a factor in COVID hospitalisations, the AHA stated. Pic: GettyImages
Excessive sugar consumption is a factor in COVID hospitalisations, the AHA stated. Pic: GettyImages

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Four in 10 consumers in Innova Market Insights’ global Health and Nutrition Survey in 2020 claimed to have decreased their sugar consumption over the studied 12-month period, with prevention of health conditions the leading reason, followed by weight management and dental health.

As consumers increasingly place health and wellbeing at the focus of their snack and beverage choices, and with new legislations and tax levies being placed on sugar, manufacturers are actively seeking viable means of reformulating their products to reduce sugar loads.

According to a recent USDA report , there has been a stagnation in sugar consumption in 2020, with a concurrent increase in alternative sweeteners, especially in all-natural and plant-based products. The global sugar-substitute market is projected to be worth US$10.2bn by 2026.

A study published this year in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) found through mathematical modelling that nearly two-thirds of hospitalisations due to COVID-19 in the US can be linked to at least one of four pre-existing conditions: obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart failure.

If people had not suffered from one of these cardiometabolic conditions, hospitalisation could have been avoided. All of these conditions can also be directly linked to excessive sugar consumption, the AHA stated.


According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), in 2019, 463 million adults (1-in-11) were living with diabetes worldwide. This number is expected to rise to 578 million by 2030, an increase of 25%. 

Within a consensus statement, leading scientists agree there is convincing evidence that low glycaemic diets reduce the risk of type II diabetes and coronary heart disease, helps control blood glucose for diabetics and can also help to manage weight.

The goal for any food or confectionery producer interested in promoting the long-term health of consumers should be to give them access to food choices that deliver a lower glycaemic profile through product development.

The key to promoting a healthy lifestyle from early on is through blood glucose management, and this happens through the right choice of carbohydrate. The ideal carbohydrate provides the necessary energy for a person’s metabolism by triggering a low and balanced rise in blood glucose and a low increase in insulin, as well as encouraging fat burning rather than fat storage, says Anke Sentko, VP Regulatory Affairs and Nutrition Communication at Beneo.

Ingredients such as Beneo’s prebiotic chicory root fibres, inulin and oligofructose, alternative sugar isomaltulose (Palatinose) and sugar replacer ISOMALT can help to lower the blood glucose response – and all have approved health claims in the EU related to this effect, he says.

By making better use of these claims on pack, manufacturers and retailers alike can encourage consumers to choose products that will help them prevent the onset of diabetes, as well as support the management of the disease.

As an industry, we all have a collective responsibility to help to improve the diets of people worldwide and reduce the risk of developing life changing, non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes​,” says Sentko.

The UK is among nearly 50 countries and regions, both developed and developing, to have implemented some form of a sugar tax or regulation, mostly with positive results in different ways. For example, Mexico, the first country to impose a sugar tax on sugary drinks, has actually seen a decline in the purchase of high sugar drinks. Across Latin America, low sugar drink launches have seen an uptick.

Several countries have also implemented visible front-of-pack warning labels for foods high in sugar (and salt and fat), such as the traffic light system or Nutri-Score. They are either mandatory or voluntary depending on the country. Others conduct national public awareness campaigns about the impact of excessive intake of these ingredients.

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