Can we hack sugar to be healthy?

The most healthy sugar ‘alternative’ might just be real sugar with a few adjustments.

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“Healthy sugar” might sound like an oxymoron, but a group of innovative food scientists in Israel doesn’t think so. The scientists believe they’ve cracked the code on how to reduce sugar intake, and (fortunately) it’s not by eating less sweets. They’re redesigning sugar itself.

When used as just one component of a healthy and balanced diet, sugar can actually be a good thing. It provides the body with immediate energy and helps it store energy for later. The daily recommended sugar intake from health experts around the globe is no more than six teaspoons for women and nine for men, but a majority of people far exceed that amount.

The average American consumes about 17 teaspoons of sugar per day, totalling 57 pounds per year. Sugar is hidden in most of the packaged and processed foods we eat. As obesity rates continue to climb, grocery store shelves have become stocked with products containing all sorts of artificial sweeteners and sugar replacements. But these are little more than temporary solutions.

Is There Such a Thing as “Healthy” Sugar?

It isn’t surprising that society has a sugar consumption problem. Sugar is an addictive substance that leaves people craving more. When consumed at unhealthy rates, it can even produce withdrawals similar to those seen in people addicted to drugs, like cocaine.

An overconsumption of sugar can have a disastrous impact on our health. High blood pressure, diabetes, and fatty liver disease are all linked to sugar consumption. These illnesses can also lead to a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association warns against the overuse of sugar and suggests that people be mindful when buying products at the grocery store. Comparing food labels and choosing products with less added sugar goes a long way. Replacing sweet treats with fresh fruits as well as cutting out soft drinks can also drastically lower consumption.

Sticking with healthier habits is oftentimes easier said than done, however. For this reason, many have set out to find a sugar replacement that maintains sweetness while eliminating negative health consequences. 

The Quest for the Healthiest Sweetener

Aspartame, stevia, and xylitol are often advertised as healthy sugar substitutes, and in many ways they are better choices than sugar itself. But these alternatives still lack in the categories of taste and nutrition.

Aspartame has become one of the most widely-used artificial sweeteners on the market today. Found in products like NutraSweet and Equal, aspartame has gained approval from the FDA and the WHO. However, it hasn’t been without controversy – some studies claim that overconsumption of the sweetener is linked to an increased risk of cancer, ADHD, depression, and seizures.

Another popular choice, stevia is often referenced as one of the healthiest sugar alternatives due to its natural production and lack of calories. Despite its advantages though, many find that the flavor of stevia leaves much to be desired. Xylitol has a sweetness very similar to sugar and contains only about two-thirds its caloric value, but many households avoid it due to its toxicity in dogs.

Recognizing the cons of artificial sweeteners, some health enthusiasts turn to honey, raw cane sugar, or coconut sugar. While these options may seem better for you since they’re more natural, the body can’t tell the difference, so they carry the same health risks as regular sugar.

Reinventing Sugar Itself

What if the most healthy sugar alternative is actually real sugar with a few adjustments? DouxMatok, an international food-tech company, claims to have finally found a sweetener solution that balances both taste and health. But rather than seek ways to replace sugar with another unideal substitute, the food scientists at DouxMatok have worked to recreate the sugar compound itself, so that it’s healthier to consume.

Before attempting to understand how this works, it’s important to know that people only taste a small fraction of the sugar they ingest. In comparison to bitterness and sourness, sweetness is tasted at a relatively low level. This is one of the reasons food manufacturers bump up the amount of added sugar in their products.

DouxMatok’s solution to this dilemma was to reconstruct the sugar compound so that more sweetness is tasted, but less needs to be ingested. Focusing on the sucrose molecule, they imbedded silicon dioxide in order to increase the molecule’s surface area.

This allows consumers to experience much more sweetness per unit. It essentially tricks the mind into thinking it’s intaking more sugar than it actually is. In this sense, DouxMatok’s product – Incredo Sugar – maximizes the efficiency of sugar.

With 24 granted patents, panel tests have already shown that Incredo Sugar can reduce 30 to 50% of the sugar content in a wide range of food products, while maintaining consumer taste approval.

DouxMatok’s vice president of research and development, David Tsivion, explains, “The unique aspect of our technology is that the sweetness still comes from simple sugar, so we can replicate the same experience without changing the flavor.” Where artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes have failed, DouxMatok may have found a solution that satisfies both consumers’ sweet tooths and health experts’ recommendations.

Incredo Sugar has the ability to change the food manufacturing sector by significantly decreasing the amount of sugar necessary in products. It could also help make processed foods exponentially more nutritious by making more room for fibers and proteins rather than sweeteners.

At the grocery store, most shoppers feel torn between what they want to eat and what they should eat. Too often, taste is prioritized over nutrition. But with its healthy sugar products, DouxMatok is creating a “best of both worlds” scenario that could someday result in better health outcomes for consumers.

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