Summary: context and overall objectives of the project
The SWEET project has been designed to i) identify and address the barriers and facilitators to the use of sweeteners and sweetness enhancers (S&SEs) and ii) examine the risks and benefits of using S&SEs to replace sugar in the diet in the contexts of health, obesity, safety and sustainability. Our commercial partners have started to develop resources which will help industry select S&SEs for new foods. The effect of various S&SEs on the body’s biological systems and behaviour will also be examined across a wide range of consumers. A large trial will examine the benefits (and potential problems) with using S&SEs to replace sugar in the diet. In all studies safety and overall health risks will be considered. Further to this, existing data will be combined and examined to determine the benefits and risks of consumption of S&SEs verses sugar. The environmental impact of using these new S&SEs will also be assessed to ensure they are a sustainable approach. Consumer needs, preferences and opinions will determine which and how S&SEs might be used in the future. This will help policy makers, manufacturers and health experts determine if and how S&SEs can be used to improve health among various consumer groups with differing requirements. This should support the reduction of calories from sugar in the European diet, a critical step in dealing with the challenge of obesity and diet related diseases across Europe.
Update on the first 18 months of the project
WP1 has started to develop technological, health impact and sweetness databases for a large panel of S&SEs. This has facilitated the generation of objective criteria and the selection of candidates and innovative blends to incorporate into beverages to be assessed in WP2 clinical trials. Toxicological assessment has evaluated the safety of the individual S&SEs. On the basis of this selection process a range of sugar-reduced beverages has been developed to utilise in Phase 1 of WP2. Sweet taste receptor studies have also been undertaken to screen the selected S&SEs and blends in cellular assays to determine their binding and activation potential for sweet and bitter taste receptors.
WP2 has completed preparation for the Phase 1 dietary trials to assess the acute impact of five S&SE blends in beverage matrices. The study protocol and SOPs have been produced and the electronic case record forms, datahub and questionnaire delivery platform developed. Ethical approval has been secured at all intervention sites and all staff have been trained in methodology.
WP3 has completed preparation for the long term dietary intervention designed to examine whether prolonged use of S&SEs in a whole diet approach improves dietary health and obesity. The study protocol has been completed and ethical approval secured at all intervention sites. Dietary guidelines have been developed, SMART goals defined, SOPs produced and the electronic case report forms, datahub and questionnaire delivery platform developed. All staff are trained in the intervention procedures.
WP4 has compiled and harmonised data from the participating epidemiological studies. This has produced a list of common variables and enabled creation of a common virtual database to merge analysis. Work has also commenced to develop and validate an S&SE biomarker method to compare self-reported S&SE intake with real-world use. Methods have been established to determine the concentration of ten commonly consumed low caloric S&SE’s in urine.
WP5 has undertaken scoping work to identify and select potential S&SEs and food products for in-depth case-study by Life Cycle Analysis approaches. Emphasis has been placed on new and emerging S&SEs that offer potentially both technological and health benefits. This has involved information exchange with WP1 to align the selection with the S&SEs being applied in foods. Development of a stakeholder workshop has also been undertaken alongside WP6 to support innovative co-design and selection of the most appropriate indicators and indices to include in social LCA.
WP6 has developed an impact plan for the project and completed the initial inventory for the gender action plan. A second phase of monitoring of gender equality within the project has begun. Mass media analysis has commenced and a protocol for social media analysis has been developed and submitted for ethical approval. Questionnaires have been incorporated into the protocols for WP2 and WP3 trials to assess the perceptions of S&SEs and barriers to their increased use.
Moving beyond the current state of the art, expected results and potential impacts
SWEET will take existing and new S&SEs and incorporate these in foods typically high in sugar. Data bases will be developed to inform the selection and examine safety issues. The project also seeks to understand the effects of S&SEs on sensory and biological processes in the body and how they may influence behaviour. Looking at individual food preferences and taste responses the project will examine how S&SEs interact to increase pleasure without stimulating over consumption. A large-scale study will examine the long-term impact of consuming a diet containing S&SEs on human appetite, food choice and body weight and particularly whether and how they help consumers maintain a healthy weight. The project will also measure real word use of S&SEs via biomarkers in urine samples to validate against self-report mechanisms. With this understanding the project will examine the relationship between self-report S&SE use and health outcomes from a number of sizable studies to better inform evidence-based guidelines and policy. Beyond health there may be wider economic, social and environmental impact of adopting S&SEs to replace sugar. The project will anticipate these through life cycle analysis of specific S&SEs chosen to be developed. Throughout the project the concerns of consumers and other barriers to innovation will inform our approach. This will assure the products that consumers need and want are developed and that these meet all regulatory requirements. This will make it easier for industry to commit to sugar replacement. Ultimately, the data yielded will be used to develop tools to help manufactures select the best ingredients and get products that consumers need and want to market.
In terms of impact, SWEET builds partnerships between public and private sector partners which will generate evidence on the potential use of S&SEs in combating obesity while improving the sustainability of food in the EU. It will also empower the consumer by allowing a greater number of potential, and better-informed food choices to improve their diet. Regulators will also be better informed on the safety of new products and S&SE blends including the long-term impact of their use in the diet. Individual differences in needs, responses and preferences will allow the tailoring of products to specific consumer needs. The project will help industry responsibly development S&SEs acceptable to consumers to replace sugar in foods. This will be done by understanding the economic, social and environment consequences of these changes. Stakeholder workshops will be used to feed in concerns, barriers, and potential solutions, as well as disseminate outcomes. The resulting stakeholder plan will ensure the above impacts will be delivered via communication between consumers, patient representatives and advocates, non-governmental organisations, ingredients makers, food producers and retailers, health experts, regulators and media.