Author: Mr. M Krishnamurthy Rao, Deputy General Manager - Marketing of Premier Nutraceuticals
The emergence of diabetes is turning out to be globally debilitating. India has about 65 million diabetics. Apart from nearly 65 million diabetics, India also has 77 million pre-diabetics. This will see the number grow to a whopping 100 million plus, confirmed diabetics by 2030. Nowadays, even children at age of 13-14 are diabetics due to the change in lifestyles – consumption of junk food, fast food, lack of physical activity and growing obesity.
With growing awareness of the link between diet and health the problem of obesity, consumer concern over sugar levels in the diet is forcing a worldwide trend towards cutting down on sugar. The shift away from sugar is still years away but a trend towards low calorie sweeteners is occurring. The world is turning, to artificial sweeteners and substitutes. The market for sugar substitutes is being fuelled globally by new-age safe sweeteners. The need of the hour is natural sweeteners.
India is the second largest producer of sugar and its largest consumer in the world – much of it being used in sweetmeats. Sweetmeats being an integral part of the “Indian Thali” become unavoidable at times. Our cultural and religious thoughts also force us to take ‘Prasad” which is usually loaded with sugar and fats. But increasingly, the massive consumption of sugar-based products is being associated not only with diabetes. India has the dubious distinction of being called the diabetic capital of the world – but also the capital of obesity and heart diseases.
The greatest challenge that the sweetener market in India faces in trying to expand the user base is the resistance Indians have to change from what has essentially been their way of life for centuries – even when the issue is health related. Sometimes social and peer pressure also doesn’t allow an individual to follow his regimen strictly.
The sweetener market In India today stands at approximately Rs.150 crores with a double digit growth. This is miniscule, looking into the number of diabetics and pre diabetics in India. With the changed regulatory scenario allowing use of sweeteners in everyday consumables the market is bound to grow. With the entry of new and safer molecules, the artificial sweetener industry in India could witness large volumes. Increasing awareness and endorsements by culinary experts and cine personalities would certainly help the Indian diabetic population to opt for alternative sweeteners.
In India, you will find 4 major types of artificial sweeteners that are currently selling. These are Saccharine, Aspartame, Sucralose and Stevia. Let us take a closer look at each of these sweeteners:
Saccharine - sold under the brand names Sweet n Low or Sugar Free. It is an organic molecule derived from petroleum and is almost 300 times sweeter than natural sugar. Saccharine is not affected by heat and so has the biggest advantages as it can be used easily in sugar free cakes and other sweetmeats. It contains no calories at all and is very effective in managing blood sugar levels. Saccharine was reported to be a potential ‘carcinogen’. Lots of studies conducted on male lab rats confirmed that saccharine does increase chances of bladder cancer.
Aspartame - sold under the brand name Equal and Sugar Free Gold is pocket friendly for the user. It is a combination of amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine with menthol. Aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetener has slow onset as well as longer taste, which is sometimes not preferred by users.1 gram of aspartame is equal to 4 calories. Yet, because we use a very small quantity to sweeten our tea and coffee, the calories amount to almost nothing. Even with all these benefits, aspartame has been linked to cardio vascular diseases.
Stevia – is unique, it cannot be termed as an ‘artificial’ sweetener because it is in fact a herb, which makes it an organic sweetener. Sold popularly as brand names BeStevia, Sunova and Steviocal, Stevia based sweeteners have been recognized as safe. It is 250 to even 300 times sweeter than sugar, though it leaves a bitter after-taste in the mouth. It is free of calories and a healthy alternative to sugar. Some people have reported feeling nauseous and bloated after using stevia.
Sucralose – A heat stable sweetener, many doctors and scientists believe that Sucralose is the best sweetener in the market. Available as Splenda and Sugar Free Natura in India, It is almost 600 times sweeter than ordinary sugar, and comes from sugar cane extracts. Sucralose has no calories, so if effective for those looking to lose weight
The international market is witnessing the entry of many natural alternatives. Most of the pharma and consumer companies are working on these natural alternatives for the Indian market. Let look at these few natural and safe options which are doing well internationally and gaining popularity.
Monk Fruit (siraitia grosvenoril): The monk fruit is a small, sweet melon native to China and has been used in Southeast Asia as an herbal medicine and sweetener for centuries. The monk fruit sweeteners have attracted attention as they are marketed as zero carbs with low or no calories and rich in antioxidants. Monk fruit sweeteners are made from monk fruit extract, which is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. User may be drawn to monk fruit extracts sweeteners as it originates from a fruit unlike plant based alternatives like stevia. With the recent expansion of the monk fruit sweeteners sales have soared to US$60 million with 70% growth in the past year.
Coconut Palm Sugar – This nectar of coconut palm trees looks, tastes, dissolves and melts like sugar but it is less processed and more nutritious. The number of calories is almost identical to refined sugar but this has a low glycemic index and so it is absorbed into the blood stream at a significantly slower rate making it a viable sugar substitute for diabetics. Rich in potassium, zinc iron and B vitamins it is the preferred choice of many diabetic and obese users.
Lucuma: The dried powder of the lucuma fruit has a subtle butterscotch flavor and is gaining preference as a natural sweetener. The fruit originates in South America and has many health benefits. This powder retains much of the fiber; vitamins and minerals found in the raw fruit including beta carotene, iron and niacin make it the preferred choice for diabetic and cardiac patients. Its butter scotch or maple flavor with flour like consistency helps it to be used in smoothies and ice-creams.
Yacon: A sweet tasting root vegetable that looks a bit like a potato and tastes much like an apple. It has been appreciated by the native Peruvian culture for thousands of years and has recently emerged in the Western world as a sweetener. Yacon is rich in fibers, probiotics and polyphenols which makes it an ideal sweetener for health conscious individuals. Appreciated by native Peruvian cultures, it is being used as a sweetener as it does not elevate blood sugar levels and is relatively low on calories.
Brazzien – A natural high-intensity sweetener from a protein called brazzein, derived from the berry of the West African plant Pentadiplandra brazzeana Baillon .It claims to be 2,500 - 4,000 times sweeter than sucrose. While monk fruit has a juicy-fruit-type candy taste profile and stevia has a licorice aftertaste”, brazzein has more of a “sucrose-type profile that makes it palatable for the users. Brazzein has a lingering aftertaste and a slight delay in the sweetness.”
A huge untapped market lies in the usage of artificial sweeteners in the food and beverage market. Beverages are the biggest market for sugar alternatives, but many products such as bars, yoghurt and baked goods also benefit from low calorie substitutes. Formulators developing a food or beverage with a natural sugar alternative must take note of consumer expectation of sweet products, including mouth feel, texture and after taste.
It is difficult for an Indian to resist his penchant for sweet food. With increasing safer options available which promise better taste with fewer calories, we can be sure that our love for sweetmeats is going to stay.Undoubtedly the Indian market for natural alternative sweeteners is bound to expand. Pharma majors are eyeing this category and are keen to add sweeteners to their diabetic product portfolios. The industry is discovering more options and looking forward to introduce newer and safer alternatives for the healthy minded consumers who can look forward for sweeter days ahead.