As we document increased rates of sugar-related disorders such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, many experts believe that when consumers reduced their fat intakes over the fat-free era of the last three decades, they simply replaced it with sugar in all its forms.

Opinions vary on the impact of sugar consumption on obesity in Australia and globally. Some extreme groups and movements believe that sugar in all its forms – even naturally occurring in honey, fruits (fructose) and vegetables – should be removed from the diets of everyone. Such extreme consumption (or non-consumption) behaviour is restrictive and leaves little flexibility for the unpredictability of life. More importantly, is this kind of sugar-free existence sustainable?

Regardless, the recent anti-sugar narrative has led consumers to a love/hate relationship with sweetness and food companies on a quest to find ways to reduce sugar intake, or at least ameliorate consumer guilt for consuming sugar in the refined form of white crystalline sucrose. But of course consumers do not want to sacrifice taste and texture and there is a demand for food products with reduced sugar profiles that are still appealing from a sensory point of view.

Sweet categories are now diverging into savoury, salty or bitter-flavoured options as alternatives to a regular sugar “hit” while still delivering interesting flavour and texture profiles. Take yoghurt for example...

Food companies are taking this sweet dairy favourite back to its traditional savoury roots, relying on spices and natural vegetable flavourings and purees to give taste. This trend does not draw on anything new – Greek cuisine has long had tzatziki and Indian cuisine has raita – but vegetable-based yogurts are now available and enjoying success in the US and UK. A good example is Blue Hill Yoghurt in the US, a dairy with its roots in the 19th century that now offers carrot, tomato, beetroot, parsnip and butternut squash yoghurts.

Historically, the soft drink market has relied heavily on sugar to deliver desired palatability and perceived refreshment. The emphasis on sugar reduction has consumers looking elsewhere for refreshing, flavoursome beverages that have lower sugar levels. Alternative drinks that embrace fermentation practices, such as kombucha, are enjoying popularity and are endorsed by many sugar-quitting bloggers and writers. Their perceived prebiotic qualities also add to this beverage being seen as an alternative to mainstream carbonated soft drinks or flavoured waters.

It is predicted more categories will move into other basic taste and flavour profiles to meet low-sugar demands.

Many food companies have invested resources in reformulating existing flagship products to achieve an improved health star rating – and a key part of this exercise is reducing the added sugar levels of the product. Kellogg's recently relaunched its iconic Nutri-Grain cereal with 17 per cent less sugar, achieving a four-star health rating.

It is also increasingly clear that consumers do not want their sweet fix to be created in a test tube.

A 2016 study conducted by Ipsos revealed that while Australians are reducing their intake of artificial sweeteners, sugary foods and drinks, we are increasingly opting for "natural” sugar substitutes such as honey. Non-caloric sweeteners such as sucralose are losing appeal with even Stevia, which is perceived to be natural, presenting flavour and cost problems.

2017 will see more food that is naturally sweetened to achieve the desired sweetness profile, but with the perceived benefit of a natural source. These sweeteners tend to be intense – like monkfruit, a small sub-tropical melon that has been cultivated in the remote mountains of Southern China for centuries. Monk fruit juice concentrate is 15-20 times sweeter than sugar and 150-200 times sweeter than sugar as a powdered extract. It is non-caloric, does not have the bitter aftertaste that is a palatability challenge for many other sweeter products, and is heat stable. Other sweet alternatives perceived to be more wholesome include coconut sugar and truvia nectar.

There are good evolutionary reasons why humans are attracted to and generally prefer sweet foods. Sweet flavours indicate an energy density that satisfies our survival instincts – very useful when supply of food was unreliable and at the mercy of many uncontrollable variables. In modern times, however, when food is relatively plentiful and accessible to the vast majority, humans face a different challenge – food abundance and availability conflicting with our neurological evolutionary preferences. Temptation indeed!