America has the distinction of being the most overweight country in the world. The latest statistics ( reveal that 38% of our citizens qualify as obese. According to a 2017 International Food Information Council (IFIC) study (, Americans blame sugars as the source of calories most likely to cause weight gain.

There’s a growing market for dairy products with less sugar, but reducing sugar content can be tricky. Often a combination of sweeteners yields the best results.


Added sugars and artificial sweeteners

“From our proprietary consumer research, we know consumers are looking for ways to reduce sugar and remove artificial sweeteners from their diets,” said Faith Son, vice president of marketing and innovation, PureCircle, Chicago. “Approximately 60% of consumers are trying to limit the amount of sugar in their diets.

“At the same time, consumers are looking to enjoy foods with ingredients sourced from nature and [that] are easy to understand,” she added. “More than 60% of consumers said naturalness is very important when purchasing food or beverages.”

The new Nutrition Facts panel creates a distinction between sugars naturally present in foods and those that are considered “added sugars.” The new line for added sugars on updated food labels has raised consumer awareness of this distinction. The IFIC study revealed that 32% of Americans have a more negative opinion of “added sugars” than they did in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the trend toward cleaner labels has caused many consumers to be skeptical of artificial sweeteners. A 2014 study ( from Israel, published in Nature, links artificial sweeteners to changes in gut microbiota, leading to glucose intolerance.

One solution is to sweeten with whole fruit, which doesn’t count as added sugar. But other ingredients might be needed to optimize flavor and texture.


Complex solutions

Stevia, erythritol, and chicory root fiber have the advantage of adding sweetness while not being considered “added sugars.”

Stevia was introduced as a food ingredient roughly 10 years ago, and new product launches with stevia have grown over 20% in the past five years.

“PureCircle has discovered tailored blends of stevia leaf extract for optimized taste performance compared to a single stevia ingredient solution,” Son said.

The company developed a blend of stevia extracts specific to dairy products such as yogurt and flavored milk.

“They can be added to fruit applications in smoothies, juices and other dairy applications to formulate for zero-added-sugar and reduced-sugar applications,” Son noted.

But formulators face multiple challenges when reducing the sugar content of dairy products.

“One challenge is that protein and fat content work together to suppress sweetness perceptions,” said Ravi Nana, polyols technical service manager for Minneapolis-based Cargill. “Another challenge is that sweeteners dictate texture, mouthfeel and consistency, especially in frozen dairy.”

But product developers could achieve a 25-30% sugar reduction by using combinations of erythritol and stevia.

“That’s enough to make a reduced-sugar label claim, yet still deliver a dairy treat that consumers will rave about,” Nana said. “In ice cream, sugar is what lowers the freezing point and prevents the formation of large ice crystals. Erythritol can fill that void.

“Because of its small molecular size — about one-third that of sugar — erythritol provides a threefold freezing-point depression factor,” he added. “That higher effect on freezing-point depression helps soften reduced-sugar ice creams, creating the scoopable texture consumers crave. It also helps replace sugar’s bulk.”

Chicory root fiber is another label-friendly offering for reduced-sugar formulations. The mildly sweet ingredient can help modulate the flavor of high-intensity sweeteners, serve as a bulking agent and provide texture benefits, too, Nana said.