Not so sweet? Honduras F&Bs high in sweeteners 'without apparent national regulation', finds study

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The old town of the city Copan in Honduras in Central America. Image © Getty Images / urf
The old town of the city Copan in Honduras in Central America. Image © Getty Images / urf
Processed food and beverages in Honduras are high in sweeteners, particularly US-imported products and beverages, and action must be taken to better regulate use and labeling of the ingredient, say researchers.

Writing in Nutrients, ​a team from the Zamorano University in Honduras characterized the sweetener content of 341 processed food and beverage products retailing in national supermarkets, chosen because they contained at least one non-caloric sweetener. The researchers then classified the presence of caloric and non-caloric sweeteners and listed these for each product. Processed foods studied included soft drinks, juices, sweets, cereal bars, jams, coffee and chewing gum, among others.

'Indiscriminate use'

Findings showed that 51% of all products contained more than one sweetener and the most commonly used sweetener, present in 94% of products, was the caloric variant high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

The majority of products (95%) contained caloric variants like HFCS, inverted sugar, sucrose, fructose and honey and 24% contained non-caloric sweeteners like sorbitol, aspartame, sucralose and stevioside.

The researchers said HFCS was likely most present because of its low cost. The non-caloric sweetener sucralose was the next most-present, found in 59% of products, followed by the caloric sweetener corn syrup in 58%.

“The Honduras population has a high exposure to caloric or non-caloric sweeteners present in all food categories, without apparent national regulation,”​ they wrote.

“...The lack of regulations regarding caloric and non-caloric sweeteners results in their indiscriminate use, leading the population to suffer chronic degenerative diseases and other social problems that cause obesity. The need for nutritional education, accurate regulation and research in this line is important for making significant integral progress regarding the prevention and control of obesity and related chronic diseases.”

Current Codex Alimentarius labeling requirements, they said, did not establish regulations to declare the number of added non-caloric sweeteners on pack and Honduras had no national legislation that required manufacturers to mention quantities either, the researchers said.

“Therefore, there is ignorance regarding their contribution and consumption in the diet, which is related to indifference of having the respective regulations and preparation of proposals for the benefit of the population, regarding the prevention and control of obesity and chronic diseases despite the efforts that international organizations have made.”

The root? Beverages and imports...

The study found that beverage category – soft drinks, juices and nectars – contained the greatest number of products with sweeteners, followed by sweets, salty snacks, cereal bars and breakfast cereals.

“The high availability and accessibility of these drinks throughout the population, as well as the lack of taxation regulations to reduce consumption, result in the population maintaining or increasing the ingestion of non-caloric and caloric sweetened beverages. These products are targeted at the population, exposing it to a high consumption of beverages with large amounts of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other sweeteners that make them part of the daily diet of Hondurans.”

The researchers said 60% of the products studied were imported from the United States and 7% from Mexico; just 6.8% were made in Honduras.

“These imports have come to modify consumption patterns with adverse effects on health and changes in the cultural food pattern,” ​the researchers wrote. And because of the “high exposure”​, Honduras consumers tended to maintain these modified consumption patterns, they said.

The presence of these sweetened products, the researchers said, had considerable implications for consumers in the country, given 47.6% of the population was categorized as overweight and 16.3% obese in 2017, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

Continued consumption would start to have severe health implications, advancing chronic diseases particularly for the younger population, they said. This was evidenced by 18 month-long studies on the consumption of carbonated drinks containing sucralose and acesulfame potassium amongst a pediatric population that showed “significant changes in the proportion of visceral fat and low weight gain”.

“Globalization leads to a sharing of diet patterns and other cultural elements, enabling the incidence and prevalence of obesity or diabetes to transcend borders. Sweeteners, both caloric and non-caloric, are present in many foods available in the Honduran market, resulting in a broad consumption by the population. Especially in Honduras, deficiencies in nutritional education, lack of regulation on the use of sweeteners, and limited information on their health consequences favors their excessive consumption,” ​the researchers wrote.

However, the hope was that this study would provide a basis for future work on the present, use and consumption of sweeteners in the Honduran diet, they said, assisting the development of educational information for consumers, as well as future research on the relationship between sweetener consumption and degenerative disease rates.

Source: Nutrients
Published online March 2018: doi 10.3390/nu10030338
Title: “Characterization of the Types of Sweeteners Consumed in Honduras”
Authors: A. Hernández, A. Beatriz Di Iorio, J. Lansdale and M. Belén Salazar

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