Could Making Sugar Sweeter Get People To Eat Less Of It? Meet The New Sweetener Hack That Has Scientists Excited
There's a new sweetener development on the block — and it's getting a lot of hype as a potential solution to the worldwide obesity problem. It's a new development that claims to let us have our sugar and eat it too, thanks to a process that means taste buds get all the taste from half the sweetness. But are we really going to lose weight thanks to a sugar replacement? And will this be helpful to our sugar-sweet appetites in the future — or just make them worse?
If anybody knows about the dangers of sugar, it's me: I had a period in 2014 where I ate enough daily to give myself severe headaches, and had to go on a doctor-recommended detox from the hard stuff. No fruit, no cake, no nothing. The real devil in the sugar bowl, according to scientists, is likely to be fructose, one of the two components of sucrose, or table sugar (the other is glucose). Research isn't conclusive, but it looks like the body copes a lot better with glucose than it does with fructose; the job of breaking fructose down falls solely to the liver, and doing it on a large scale may lead to insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and other serious nasties.
So you'd think I'd be excited about this new development. Sweetness with half the sugar behind it? Amazing, right? Unfortunately, I have doubts.
How The New Sweeter Sugar Works
By now you probably know that the myth that taste buds on different areas of the tongue can only taste certain things (sugar, sourness) is actually a myth. All taste buds can sense the full range of tastes; it's just that some are more adept at picking up certain flavors than others. And the new development, a product by a company called Doux Matok, claims to essentially be a taste bud trick.
Doux Matok's central innovation is that it delivers the same amount of sweetness using far less sugar — 25 to 55 percent, according to a report by Fast Company, and the mechanism isn't actually all that tricky. It involves incredibly tiny particles that DouxMatok has covered in natural sugars (as opposed to processed ones). The particles are safe to ingest and are meant to be used in place of traditional sugar. The end result? DouxMatok claims that it can deliver the same sugar hit to the taste buds with half the actual sugar.
To bake a cake with Doux Matok's sugar replacement, you'd take the prescribed amount of sugar — 100 grams of caster, for instance — and replace it with, say, 50 grams of the flavor delivery sugar. The result? The same amount of sweetness to your chocolate sponge, apparently, but with half the sugar — and, the logic goes, half the corresponding health problems.
Why This Would Potentially Be Awesome
Sugar, as you may have picked up from That Sugar Film , is currently under the spotlight as a major cause for modern health issues. It's had a fraught part in world history, including kick-starting a giant slave trade and massive political upheaval. Even Queen Elizabeth I reportedly had utterly black teeth from her sugar addiction, and a current fiction bestseller, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, is based in part around the strange viciousness of the sugar trade in 17th century Amsterdam. The white stuff is not as benign as it looks.
The current health advice surrounding sugar is that women should only eat six teaspoons daily (25 grams), while men should only have nine (or 37.5 grams). The problem? The average American now consumes 765 grams of sugar every five days. To say we're exceeding health targets on sugar consumption is an understatement on par with "Donald Trump is a little bit misogynist." Mostly, it's being consumed in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, a sweet additive that's used in a huge amount of savory foods.
Sugar in these giant doses is obviously not doing anybody any good. The realities are actually pretty grim: A 2014 study from Harvard showed that, even if you're not overweight, a high-sugar diet drastically increases your risk of dying of heart disease. And it's been potentially linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels, the development of diabetes and dentistry problems — and, of course, obesity.
The main message? Anything that cuts down on sugar in the modern diet is probably good news for everybody. But does Doux Matok have the right idea?
Why This May Not Actually Reduce Our Sugar Intake
The key issue with Doux Matok is that it's not doing anything about our voracious taste for sugar itself; it's just tricking us into thinking we're eating the real thing. The big point of the product, and a source of understandable pride for the company, is that we absolutely cannot detect the difference between it and "normal" sugar. Given our proven appetite for the stuff, even halving our intake will still keep us at a sky-high sugar level, far outside the healthy zone. The only thing preventing us from gobbling ordinary eclairs, then, is concern for our health — and that may not go far enough towards changing our appetites.
Doux Matok does offer one advantage: It's understandably cheaper than sugar, because you can use it in far smaller quantities for the same taste result. So we may grab the sugar-replacement biscuits purely because they're lighter on the wallet. That may also mean that industrially produced foods will start to use it — and that's not necessarily good news, as sugar is only part of the reason that some processed foods aren't great for you. Hidden sodium levels and fats are in the picture, too. Halving sugar doesn't mediate the ill effects of those nasties, alas.
Plus I can absolutely envision a cottage industry of "real," "artisanal" sugar products claiming authenticity as their badge of honor in the food market. Consumers often fear the chemical and man-made ingredients in food, rightly or wrongly, and will likely be easily swayed by "all-natural, sugar-replacement free" signs on sugar-encrusted buns at county fairs.
And, psychologically, the idea of a cheap, half-sugar tasty treat will likely induce us to eat twice as much. You know what I'm talking about. The Doux Matok product will contain fructose as part of its makeup, and part of fructose's nastiness is that it makes us insatiable for it, according to a 2013 study by the Yale School of Medicine. Consumption of fructose doesn't make us feel full or satisfied — it just makes us crave it more.
I'm not being an anti-sugar vigilante here. I'm back on the sugar now, albeit in much smaller quantities, and will dive for a 75 percent chocolate bar with the best of them. It's just clear that sugar is a seriously problematic part of the Western diet — and a half-sugar replacement, while a good start, just doesn't seem to go far enough.