Innovating better with smart carbohydrates

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Today, sports nutrition is no longer just about athletes.

The desire to lead more active, healthier lives has risen to the top of most consumers’ minds, in light of the ongoing pandemic. This trend has led to a boom in the sports nutrition market in Asia, which is expected to grow by 12.2% in the next five years.

This growth means that more and more manufacturers have begun redesigning their mainstream food and drinks to help consumers achieve their fitness goals. These include products such as beverages, cereals, and snacks, and they now provide an added benefit of increasing energy during exercise or help with recovery after workouts. However — while convenient — many of these products tend to be abundant in high glycaemic carbohydrates. 

Such carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream at a fast rate, giving you a short boost of energy. This also tends to trigger a significant increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which then results in a so called “sugar crash”. 

Consumers are beginning to recognise that carbohydrates vary greatly in quality. In fact, a recent BENEO survey revealed that 66% of consumers believe that low-glycaemic sugars are better for their health. Along with an increasing penchant for healthier alternatives, 45% of Asian consumers are also now looking for products that can improve their energy. 

This unabated demand represents a market of thriving opportunities, and food manufacturers must strike while the iron is hot. They should therefore look at ingredients that can deliver energy in a balanced, sustained manner. 

Helping consumers make smarter choices with smart carbohydrates

When it comes to catering to daily energy needs, carbohydrates come to mind. However, it’s just as important (if not more important) to look at the quality of the carbohydrates we consume.

‘Fast carbohydrates’ — such as maltodextrin and sucrose that are commonly used in sports nutrition products — release glucose into the bloodstream quickly when digested. This causes a ‘boost and crash’ effect where there is a rapid increase followed by a sudden decline in glucose levels as our body regulates the sudden rise. Such reactions are not ideal for those looking to achieve sustained, balanced energy levels throughout the day, much less those who are looking for endurance during exercise.

On the other hand, smart-release carbohydrates can help to provide a more steady and sustained energy supply, resulting in blood glucose levels that stay balanced, without sudden ups and downs. One example is BENEO’s Palatinose™ (generic name: isomaltulose), a smart carbohydrate derived from sugar beet that is digested gradually so glucose is released into the bloodstream in small quantities at a time.  

This lower and more balanced blood glucose response results in less insulin release and an improved metabolic profile. In addition, the lower insulin levels allow for a higher rate of fat burning instead of carbohydrate burning for energy supply. This was demonstrated in a scientific study which showed that Palatinose™ delivered clear advantages with its steady and sustained carbohydrate energy supply to allow for “a greater reliance on fat oxidation and [the] sparing of glycogen”.

But how can manufacturers incorporate these smart carbohydrates into their products? 

One ingredient, a myriad of opportunities

Palatinose™ boasts various technical benefits that allows it to be easily used in a variety of recipes. 

Its low hygroscopicity makes it perfect for powdered drinks and blends as it does not easily form lumps in powder form. This functional carbohydrate also has good solubility, enabling consumers to dissolve it easily into their beverages. It remains stable at a temperature of 25°C with a relative humidity of up to 85% and this stability ensures that food manufacturers will not have to worry about compromising quality during manufacturing processes where conditions may be prone to drastic changes.  

Additionally, a maintained osmolality allows concentrations of drinks to remain unchanged with its addition into the mix. When applied to sports drinks, this ensures that they retain their isotonic properties to serve their water replenishment purposes and are optimally absorbed by the digestive system of consumers.

More importantly, Palatinose™ provides a mild, natural sweetness without any aftertaste, and can easily be combined with other sweeteners to achieve a tailored sweetness profile suited to the individual preference of the consumer. Food manufacturers will thus be able to reformulate their products without difficulty to preserve taste and texture, while offering the benefits of sustained and balanced carbohydrate energy release.

As sports nutrition products continue to flourish globally, the food and beverage industry will need to rise to the challenge of helping consumers meet their increasing desire to lead more active lives coupled with better nutrition.

But they don’t have to tread into the unknown to make that happen. 

The good news is that there are already alternative carbohydrates that can help food manufacturers reformulate better, and provide consumers with a sustained energy while improving their metabolic profile and increasing fat burning potential — without compromising on taste.