Reformulation of industrialized foods – small step towards a healthier population

Many of the lifestyle related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetics and cancers have associations with the food consumption pattern. Convenience foods that are purchased from the market are mostly processed (or ultra-processed). Sugar reduction can play a role in decreasing obesity. Fat in foods induce overeating and the energy density it provide is high as well. Excess energy consumed contribute to overweight of an individual. Saturated and trans fats are directly associated with cholesterol level. Fat reduction can help to reduce obesity.  Dietary sodium comes from processed foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, processed meats, cheese, and sauces. Sodium intake is related to high blood pressure (leading to heart disease & stroke). Ultra-processed foods often contribute higher amounts of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and energy to the diet. Packaged snacks, soft drinks and ready-meals are often high in saturated fat, salt and sugar (& contain low nutrients). A diet rich in wholegrains, fruits & vegetables and low in saturated & trans fats, low in sugar and sodium protects us from many of the lifestyle diseases.

Interventions from government (policies by various countries) are helping to improve the awareness of reduced fat, sugar and sodium to general public. Incentivizing food industry might help towards a healthier population for respective country. Front of pack (FOP) nutrition labelling is given priority so that consumers can make a healthier choice. It is also one of the strategies that has been suggested to encourage the food industry to reformulate their products. Many soft drink companies are reformulating their sugary drinks (to avoid taxes specific of the country. Food industry can thus play a part of the solution to obesity.

Reformulating the existing industrialized food products can therefore lead to healthier food productions and healthier life for people. Many organizations are moving towards reformulating their products to reduce fat, sugar and salt, but this is not easy because ‘taste is the king’. It is hard for people to make a compromise on taste. Does that mean that the manufacturers need to now add additional (unhealthy) ingredients to compromise the taste. Both sugar and fat play a functional role in the food matrix, where it helps in moisture management, shelf life, texture, creaminess etc. Food reformulation in the industry is carried out step by step (gradual), ie, such reduction in salt or sugar or fat is carried out in smaller levels so that consumer’s acceptance can be gradually attained through this process. This is termed as the ‘adaptation period’ of consumer where new (eg; salt) level must be elapsed before further reduction step kicks in. It was also found that consumer acceptance to salt reduction in bread and dairy products was high when the reduction was performed gradually (Antunez et al 2016).

Sugar reduction: Non-nutritive sweeteners (such as Acesulfame-K, sucralose, aspartame), low calorie carbohydrates and polyols are commonly used in bakery products instead of sucrose. Stevia is highly applied in baked products.

Sodium reduction: Alternatives are limited, while sodium reduction is directly encouraged for most food products. One strategy performed in pork sausages was the partial replacement of sodium chloride with potassium chloride based salts (Stanley et al 2017).

Fat reduction: Cheese is a high fat food. Reducing fat content will affect the flavor of cheese drastically. There are cases where chia seed mucilage was used to obtain cheese with an acceptable sensory characteristics.  Attempts are made to reformulate meat products using mono/polyunsaturated fatty acids, natural plant components, fiber etc.

Many food companies are tapping on the advantages of incorporating starch derivatives, micro crystalline cellulose, beta-glucan, cereal bran, konjac etc into the food products, such that the functions such as binding, gelling, stabilizing etc can be imparted (to retain the desirable physiochemical product characteristics) without compromising the taste of the food product.

Ref: Antunez et al Fd Res Int  90 (2016) 66; Stanley et al Meat Sci 133 (2017) 36

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