Sugar replaces fat, but at a cost to health
For several decades, it was widely accepted that a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol increases the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. As a result, national and international dietary recommendations promoted diets that are low in fat and saturated fat. In response, food companies launched low-fat versions of their products, which were marketed as healthy. But in order to compensate for changes in flavor, food producers ended up replacing fat with sugars.
One such example from the dessert aisle is frozen yoghurt, which is perceived to be healthier than ice-cream because it is made with yoghurt instead of cream. Between 2011 and 2013, sales of frozen yoghurt in Britain grew from GBP 6 million to GBP 13 million, an increase of 117%. However, many frozen yoghurt brands contain a significant amount of sugar to counteract the sour taste of yoghurt. And because sugar is not as filling as cream, consumers often end up eating larger or more servings of frozen yoghurt than if they had been eating regular ice cream. In other words, as fat was replaced by sugars, what seemed like a healthier diet, might have in fact been harmful to our health. The substantial decline in the percentage of energy intake from total and saturated fats was offset by an increase in the consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars — a dietary shift that may be contributing to the current twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes.1
The type of sugar used also plays a role in contributing to obesity. More than half of the sweet food and drink products consumed in the US contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a processed sweetener derived mostly from corn.2 Academic research suggests that fructose induces an increase in uric acid, a major contributor to cardiorenal disease, which is associated with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and kidney disease.3
As a result, the packaged food and beverage industry has faced growing criticism and some countries, such as Mexico, have responded by introducing taxes on sugary sodas. Food & beverage companies such as Danone and Unilever, which recognize the unintended consequences of replacing fat with sugar and respond to public and regulatory pressure to reformulate their products, can expect to benefit from growing demand for healthier food.
1 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010
2 Iowa Ag Review, 2005
3 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008
Senior Sustainability Investing Analyst, RobecoSAM Healthy Living Strategy"Food & beverage producers that lead the way in reducing sugar content of their products and promoting healthier food are expected to gain a competitive advantage."