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Pandemic Places a Spotlight on Keeping Healthy Among China’s Consumers

As many are looking to improve their diet, new research proves the importance of controlled blood glucose levels to stay healthy

The health crisis has underlined the importance of managing diets for better health. In a study published by Nielsen¹, 80% of consumers in China revealed that they will pay more attention to their diet, even after the pandemic subsidies
Foods with health claims are a big draw in China, as 60% of consumers said they always check the ingredient labels and will not buy a product if it doesn’t seem healthy². Furthermore, 82% of Chinese consumers are also ready to pay a premium for foods that are free from unhealthy ingredients³.
This is an encouraging response, as obesity has become a major problem in China, with 46% of adults being considered overweight or obese 4. One of the likely contributors is the country’s rapid urbanisation, which has led to the rise of hectic lifestyles that are ‘obesogenic’ in nature — identified by easily available, highly palatable foods including convenience foods and snacks with poor nutritional value.
This shift in diet has also given rise to the number of diabetics in China, which has soared to about 117 million in 2019 — the highest in the world. If this trend continues, China is expected to have more than 147 million diabetics by 2045 5.
“It is crucial for the industry to start raising awareness of the tangible health effects of having balanced blood glucose levels. This is especially relevant today, as recent research has shown that well-controlled blood glucose levels have a strong correlation to lower mortality rates for patients with COVID-196 . As China puts in place measures to continue suppressing the effects of the global pandemic, consumers can also take a proactive step by ensuring that they are in the best of health during this challenging time,” said Christian Philippsen, Managing Director of BENEO Asia Pacific.
The need to improve blood glucose management
While the Chinese diet is generally rich in nutritious foods like grains and vegetables, the impact of globalisation, changing lifestyles and a preference for fast and packaged foods have changed the way the nation eats. These diet changes are now showing its negative impact, as the nation records a rising number of citizens with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and kidney damage. To combat this, Chinese consumers need to be empowered to make informed choices when selecting food products. Recognising the importance of managing blood glucose levels is an important piece in the overall health management puzzle.
The good news is, there is already a high consumer interest in natural solutions to control blood glucose levels — both for better overall health as well as for relief from the potential ailments. With ingredients obtained from nature such as the functional carbohydrates Palatinose™ and ISOMALT, a well as prebiotic fibres such as inulin and oligofructose, food manufacturers can take active steps to meeting this demand from consumers, while helping them to better-manage their blood glucose levels.
Palatinose™ is a natural, slow-release carbohydrate that is fully digestible and occurs naturally in small amounts in honey. It leads to a slower and lower rise in blood glucose and insulin response, while providing a more constant and sustained energy supply over a longer period. This has been consistently proven in many clinical studies conducted across different population groups. For instance, a clinical study conducted in Singapore among 40 healthy Chinese, Malay, Indian and Caucasian participants showed that replacing sucrose with Palatinose™ significantly decreased blood glucose levels in all groups. It even showed that Asians benefited more from Palatinose™, as compared to Caucasians, as they had a comparatively lower blood glucose response7.
Because of its unique slow-release property and its low glycaemic index (GI) of 32, Palatinose™ is a one-of-a-kind replacement for common sugars and maltodextrin, which have high GIs. Furthermore, its mild sugar-like taste, can maintain — or even improve — the taste and texture of the final product. Some of the most popular applications for Palatinose™ include baked goods, confectionery, beverages, and energy drinks.
How can food manufacturers adjust to customer needs?
Industry expert Julian Mellentin from New Nutrition Business believes that brand owners with an eye to the future need to be looking hard at the issues. Increasingly, public health authorities are placing an emphasis on people’s diets, and how foods and beverages can help — or hinder — consumers’ ability to manage their blood sugar levels.8
Food manufacturers can address this demand, while improving the nutritional value of their products by reimagining its formulation with natural ingredients. For example, by leveraging functional ingredients such as BENEO’s Palatinose™, manufacturers can ensure that the carbohydrate energy that enters the body is of a high metabolic quality, and suitable for a healthy diet.
Aside from Palatinose™, sugar replacers such as ISOMALT are also able to help consumers in managing their blood glucose levels, as it has a low effect on blood sugar. BENEO’s ISOMALT is the only sugar replacer derived from pure sugar beet, giving it a sweetening profile similar to sucrose at half the calories. ISOMALT replaces sugar in a 1:1 ratio, and when used in sweet foods, the ingredient provides the same taste and body of sugar. ISOMALT therefore enables food manufacturers to cut down on, or even fully replace, the sugar content in their products.
Manufacturers also have the option of using chicory root fibres such as oligofructose to help promote balanced blood glucose levels. Oligofructose is a prebiotic and is indigestible by our bodies — which means that it supports a lower rise in blood glucose response, while increasing the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Studies have shown that when more chicory root fibres are used to replace sugar, the lower the blood glucose response and its corresponding insulin response. Even a 20% sugar replacement shows significant reduction in blood glucose levels. With its natural and pleasant taste, oligofructose can be used to reduce or replace sugar in recipes, while helping to improve digestive health.
Focusing on a healthier lifestyle
Globalisation and a strong economy have improved the standard of living for China’s population. With their rising disposable income and busier lifestyles, many Chinese consumers are adopting an imbalanced diet which can prove to be detrimental to their health in the long run. The tides are changing, however, as modern consumers are increasingly paying more attention to foods that contain health benefits.
With a growing body of research pointing towards blood sugar management as a powerful tool in the war against obesity, and more consumers now realising its potential, the food and drink industry has an opportunity to embrace a wider range of products that promote health. China’s consumers are already making the link between blood sugar management and health benefits. Now, it is up to food manufacturers to play an active role in meeting these needs by reassessing and reimagining their product formulation, to incorporate natural and functional ingredients that can provide distinctive health benefits and help to fight obesity and diabetes.
7 Tan WSK, Tan S-Y, Henry CJ (2017) Ethnic Variability in Glycemic Response to Sucrose and Isomaltulose. Nutrients 9(4)

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Thomas Schmidt
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