The market for low-sugar food is expanding in Japan, reflecting recognition that moderate carbohydrate restrictions are an effective way to address lifestyle-related diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.
The Eat & Fun Health Association, which promotes low-carbohydrate diets, recommended in November a set of noodles, bread, sweets and other products produced by 14 companies that support its campaign.
An average meal usually contains about 90 to 100 grams of carbohydrate. The recommended foodstuffs lower that by limiting sugar intake to 20 to 40 grams, the association said.
“If the low-carbohydrate diet prevents lifestyle and other sugar-induced diseases, nearly ¥150 billion ($1.2 billion) in annual medical bills can be saved,” Satoru Yamada, a doctor who heads the association, said at a news conference in Tokyo.
The market for no or reduced carbohydrate foods was worth an estimated ¥227.5 billion in 2013 and has been expanding thanks to popular interest in carbohydrate-free diets, according to a survey in July 2014 by market researcher Fuji Keizai Co.
Companies are competing to launch products targeting health- and diet-conscious people who tend to shun noodles because of their high sugar content.
Confectioner Ezaki Glico Co. developed and launched in March frozen noodles and pasta with 30 percent less sugar than usual, using its technology for low-carbohydrate ice cream. It hopes to chalk up ¥1 billion in sales from the new products and low-carbohydrate sweets in the next two years.
Kibun Foods Inc. released carbohydrate-free noodles made from konnyaku (devil’s tongue) and okara, a byproduct left behind after soybeans are pureed into soy milk, in fall 2013. Their sales from April to September 2015 doubled from a year earlier after becoming popular with diabetics and their families.
In 2014, Morinaga Milk Industry Co. began selling a pudding with 70 percent less carbohydrate content. The new product, which contains an artificial sweetener and caramel sauce and tastes just like ordinary pudding, is popular with women in their 20s and 30s, a company official said.
Hinomaru Kotsu Co., a taxi operator in Tokyo, has launched a health care program for about 40 workers who were diagnosed with metabolic problems in a health checkup the company conducted in fiscal 2014.
Aimed at preventing accidents by improving the health of drivers, the program requires them to submit reports on what they eat during work hours and measure their pre-meal blood glucose levels on a regular basis.
Convenience store chain Lawson Inc., which is cooperating with Hinomaru’s program, offers low-carbohydrate bread and other foodstuffs. Drivers have “become more diet-conscious” and are “able to avoid drowsiness while at the wheel,” said an official in charge.
Hinomaru plans to expand the program to all employees to eliminate metabolic problems.