Diet: A sweet plant grows against sugar

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Nutritional research: The sugar-sweet stevia can help against unhealthy sugar

The health effects of excessive sugar consumption such as fat metabolism disorders, tooth decay, liver damage and obesity have been known for years. Pressure is increasing on the food industry to reduce the sugar content of their products and companies are desperately looking for alternatives. An alternative is the sugar-sweet plant stevia, which has recently been approved by the European Union.

The natural sweetener stevia, which has only been approved in the EU since 2011, could increasingly be used here as a sugar substitute in the future. The extracts of the stevia plant taste up to 400 times sweeter than conventional sugar without being burdened with comparable health risks. The growing pressure from consumer advocates and politicians to discover that plant-based sugar substitutes are a possible alternative for the food industry. With stevia, confectionery, sugary soft drinks and other sweetened foods should become significantly less hazardous to health in the future than before.

Reduce the sugar content in food Chocolate, cakes, candies or ice cream - very few Germans are willing to do without sweet delicacies permanently. The difficulty lies not only in the products, which are obviously very sweetened, but also in foods with a rather hidden sugar content, such as ketchup. The average sugar consumption per capita in this country is significantly too high. Associated with this are numerous health risks which, in the opinion of consumer advocates and politicians, also urgently require a rethink on the part of the food manufacturers. At first glance, consumers should be able to see how high the sugar content in food is, according to politicians. There is also an urgent need to look for alternatives that are suitable to replace sugar. One of these alternatives could be the so-called honey herb stevia, which has long been known in naturopathy. The extracts of the plant have been used by Indians in South America for centuries to give dishes a pleasant sweetness. Since the end of 2011, the processing of natural sweeteners in foods has also been permitted in the EU.

Use of artificial sweeteners partly controversial Various artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame or sucralose have been used in the food industry for years. However, these are not without controversy, as critics assume that they have various negative health effects. Although the sweeteners do not pose a risk of tooth decay like conventional sugar, some of them were already suspected of increasing the likelihood of cancer and promoting the development of obesity (due to an appetizing effect). Therefore, the food industry has high hopes for the plant-based alternative stevia. This can taste up to 400 times sweeter than sugar and will be used in the future, for example, to sweeten soft drinks, yogurt, muesli and chocolate. The global beverage manufacturer Coca-Cola has already introduced soft drinks with stevia as a sweetener in the United States and France. According to the group, research into the use of the calorie-free substance is also currently underway in Germany.

Stevia enables significant reduction in sugar content According to current media reports, the Federal Association of the German Confectionery Industry explained that Stevia cannot completely replace sugar, but essentially only helps to reduce the sugar content. The food chemist Dr. In an interview with the "Hamburger Abendblatt", Thomas Hofmann from the Technical University of Munich emphasized that the ingredients of the stevia plant "can increase the sweet taste of sugar in the presence of lower sugar constellations". A small amount of stevia is sufficient for this, which activates the cells of the tongue responsible for sweet taste and thus improves the quality of the taste, the expert reported. This reinforcing effect on the sweet taste allows "the sugar content of a drink to be reduced from twelve to two percent" without the consumer noticing that the sweetness is impaired, Hofmann continues.

Sugar content in chocolate can be reduced by 95 percent The candy industry and explicitly the chocolate industry offer a particularly wide range of uses for the vegetable sweetener. For years there has been a search for ways to reduce the sugar content without losing taste. The so-called diabetic chocolate is one of the results of this effort, but there are significant differences in taste compared to classic chocolate. The world's largest chocolate producer, Barry Callebaut, is currently testing the use of stevia in alternative chocolate products, according to media representatives "stimulated by increasing health awareness among consumers". With the help of the vegetable sweetener, it is possible to reduce the sugar content in these products by 95 percent, a spokesman for Barry Callebaut continued.

Contrast effects to enhance the sweetness of the salty taste The Dutch research institute Nizo is pursuing a completely different approach to reducing the sugar content in the various foods. Here, according to the Nizo taste researcher, Kerstin Burseg, is currently investigating how so-called contrast effects can be achieved in order to pretend that the taste is sweeter for consumers. Comparable studies are also underway regarding the salty taste of the food, since there is also interest in reducing it. The basic idea is to save sugar or salt by placing small amounts of sugar or salt at certain points in a food, which create a contrast effect that makes the sweet or salty taste appear significantly more intense. "You ignore the layer of food with low concentrations because you pay attention to the parts with the higher concentration," Kerstin Burseg told the "Hamburger Abendblatt". This method has already been successfully tested for bread in terms of salt content, according to the researcher.

Sweet flavors intensify the taste Another starting point, according to the Dutch expert, is to enhance sweet or salty taste with special fragrances. Because the taste is significantly influenced by the smell, because when chewing and swallowing, odor molecules rise up to the mucous membranes in the nose and thus enable a differentiated taste perception. The tongue can only distinguish the basic flavors (bitter, sweet, sour, salty). If the sense of smell is now stimulated by the sweet flavors that are added to the food, these appear to be significantly sweeter, according to the Dutch researcher. According to the expert, up to 20 percent sugar could be saved by using flavors. The combination with the contrast effects explained above would even enable a reduction in the sugar content by up to 45 percent, the Nizo scientist emphasized. Ultimately, however, the decision to forego sugar or to reduce sugar consumption lies with the consumer. Many are well aware of the amount of sugar they take in with a bar of chocolate or a glass of cola, but this is simply ignored. However, sugar is not generally to be demonized, but "it depends on the amount", Dr. Susanne Klaus from the German Institute for Nutritional Research in Potsdam. (fp)

Read about stevia:
Diabetes: Can Stevia Overdose?
Stevia: Natural sweetness approved without calories
Jerusalem artichoke: sweet tuber with dietary value
Stevia: Exploitation of sweeteners from nature?

Image: Sigrid Rossmann /

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