The hidden sugars in your food
Do you know how much sugar is in your bread and cereal? We reveal which supposedly healthy foods are brimming with the sweet stuff.
The news is full of stories about the high salt content in food and health experts are constantly warning us to reduce our salt consumption or face an increased risk of heart disease.
Health experts have found that the amount of sugar in ‘healthy’ foods has doubled in 30 years – we take a look at some of the foods that contain dangerously high levels and give you some tips on reducing your intake.
We are more aware today of the importance of eating a healthy diet than we have ever been and sales of so-called ‘health’ foods have rocketed in recent years.
You would assume, therefore, that the food on sale in supermarkets across the country would be lower in fat, salt and sugar than it was thirty years ago.
Not so – according to an industry handbook which lists the nutritional value of various foods.
Sugar in particular, it seems, is being added to food in unprecedented quantities, and earlier this year The Daily Mail has sparked a debate about sugar levels in our food by comparing the amount of sugar per 100g in ‘health’ foods today compared to 30 years ago.
McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods shows that sugar levels in foods such as cereal and wholemeal bread have in fact doubled since 1978.
So why is food so much sweeter than it used to be? Health experts have pointed towards the reduction in the price of sugar and an increase in the demand for sweeter foods (particularly amongst children), a demand which could see cases of dental problems, obesity and diabetes continue to spiral out of control.
The Composition of Foods shows that, in 1978, Kellogg’s Special K – widely regarded as a healthy breakfast cereal – contained 9.6g of sugar per 100g. Since then, however, this figure has increased to 17g.
And anyone who thinks wholemeal bread is a healthy option may be interested to hear that in 1978 100g of a loaf contained 2.1g of sugar.
Now, however, this number has risen to an alarming 3.7g. Tomato soup was also singled out for criticism – up from 2.6g of sugar three decades ago to 6.4g now.
This is not the first time that high levels of sugar were found in unlikely food sources. A recent survey by Which? found that meals such as Tesco crispy beef with sweet chilli and Asda’s sticky chilli chicken contained more sugar than vanilla ice cream.
They also said that food labelling was confusing as sugar, in accordance with EU regulations, could be listed as fructose, dextrose, sucrose and glucose.
Which? analysed supermarket foods for sugar, which can be present naturally or added as a sweetener or a preservative.
High sugar content is classified by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as more than 15g per 100g or more than 18g if a portion is more than 100g.
The Asda dish contained 19.2g of sugar per 100g, while Tesco’s crispy beef had a whopping 23.1g per 100g. Ironically, Weight Watchers digestive biscuits contain 20.5g of sugar – 4% more than McVitie’s digestives.
Weight Watchers responded to the survey by pointing out that their biscuits contained less fat, salt and more fibre.
Neil Fowler, editor of Which?, said: “It is no wonder if people are baffled about the amount of sugar they are consuming.
Although many companies do voluntarily label their products, not all do. 'Supermarkets are not obliged to include nutritional information on packaging unless they claim it is “low sugar”.'
However, around half of them show information on recommended guideline daily amounts, which does include sugar.
Spokesmen for manufacturers and supermarkets maintain that they are making it easier for consumers to see exactly how much sugar is in their food.
We Brits are well known for having a sweet tooth, but many people are unaware that there are different types of sugars. The FSA urges us to eat fewer foods that have added sugar, and have many tips and alternatives to help cut down on our sugar intake.
Fruit and milk contain naturally occurring sugar that we don't need to cut back on. However, many foods contain added sugars to appeal to our taste buds, but not necessarily to our health.
These include cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks and even fruit juices. Such things are not nutritionally balanced, containing calories but little other nutrients, and the FSA recommends that we eat these in moderation.
When a fruit is whole, the natural sugars are held within the fruits structure, but when they juiced or blended, the structure is broken down. Although still a healthier option compared to fizzy drinks, juice is best confined to mealtimes.
It is always a good idea to check the nutritional information on food labels, as this give a good indication of the sugar content.
The FSA states that high sugar content is over 15g sugars per 100g, and low sugar content is less than 5g sugar per 100g.
The ingredients list is also a good place to check, as added sugars must be included. Food manufacturers use different words to describe added sugars such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey.
The main ingredients are always the first on the list, so if you spy any of these near the top of the list, the product will probably be high in added sugars.