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If you think you are partial to sweet drinks, University of Otago researchers want you to think again.

In a study, published in Food Quality and Preference, the group set out to test people’s rejection threshold to increasing or decreasing levels of sugar in a cordial drink and how that relates to their daily diet.

Mei Peng image
Dr Mei Peng.

Lead author Dr Mei Peng, of the Department of Food Science, says they found people have a relatively broad range for sugar acceptance.

On average, study participants accepted drinks with 112 per cent more sugar than the manufacturer’s recommendation, and drinks with 62 per cent less sugar.

The acceptable reduction of sugar surprised the researchers, but Dr Peng says those are the findings with the most important implications.

“The findings imply that consumers are able to accept products, or at least simple beverages, with a considerable sugar reduction, despite being able to detect differences in the sweetness levels.

“Even a 47 per cent sugar reduction in a standard 250 mL orange cordial can lead to a substantial energy deduction of 170 kJ, or 41 kcal, per drink. To put this in context, previous studies have indicated reducing sugar in all soft drinks by 40 per cent could reduce the number of overweight people by 500,000 and obese people by 1 million in the UK .

“Whether sugar is really the ‘devil’ in our modern diet is still up for debate. However, excessive sugar intake is closely linked to weight issues, so it is important to increase understanding of individual differences in sweetness preference and continue exploring ways to reduce dietary sugar intake,” she says.

The researchers used the findings to determine potential links between study participant’s rejection point, and their sugar intake in real life.

They found those most sensitive to sugar reduction consumed significantly more energy from sugar in their daily diet, highlighting the important role sense of taste plays in guiding our dietary habits.

“Our research is in line with some public health policy proposals for sugar reduction – having some gradual reduction in sweetened products over a prolonged period of time will help people accept products with reduced sugar more easily,” Dr Peng says.

Publication details:

Rejection thresholds for sweetness reduction in a model drink predict dietary sugar intake

Mei Peng, Rachel Ginieis, Sashie Abeywickrema, Jessica McCormack, John Prescott

Food Quality and Preference

For more information, please contact:

Dr Mei Peng
Senior Lecturer
Department of Food Science
University of Otago

Ellie Rowley      
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 278 8200

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