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Analysis suggests that many foods might be oversweetened

By Dental Tribune International
October 09, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, U.S.: Some of the recurring suspected culprits responsible for the growing prevalence of dental caries globally are food and drinks with added sugar. A study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia has suggested some surprising trends in this regard, however, finding that many consumers tend to find foods to be too sweet rather than not sweet enough.

The researchers looked at nearly 400,000 reviews of food products posted online by customers of the e-commerce giant Amazon over a period of ten years. They used a statistical modeling program to examine words related to taste, texture, odor, spiciness, cost, health and customer service. Their ultimate aim was to understand more about purchasing decisions and sensory responses regarding food.

“Reading and synthesizing almost 400,000 reviews would essentially be impossible for a human team, but recent developments in machine learning gave us the ability to understand both which words are present and also their underlying semantic meaning,” said study co-author Dr. Joel Mainland, an olfactory neurobiologist at Monell.

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The word “taste” was mentioned in over 30% of the reviews examined, making it by far the most frequently used word, and “sweet” was found in 10.7% of the reviews. The phrase “too sweet” was present in 0.8% of all reviews, and oversweetness was mentioned more than 25 times more frequently than undersweetness.

The findings of the study point toward the possibility of reducing the sugar content of foods as a way of satisfying more customers’ wants. This subject is a pressing issue for many public health authorities who wish to improve both the oral and systemic health of their communities. In England, for example, an ongoing voluntary plan to reduce the country’s sugar intake by 20% by 2020 has delivered less-than-stellar results to this point. However, a mandatory tax on the sugar content of carbonated beverages has worked quite effectively, and this category of drinks has undergone a 28.8% sugar reduction per 100 ml since 2015.

The study, titled “Sensory nutrition: The role of taste in the reviews of commercial food products,” was published on Oct. 1, 2019, in Physiology and Behavior.

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