When I went to visit my friend recently she proudly showed me a new product that she had bought at the supermarket, a product with packaging that had many health claims printed on it…such as ‘wholewheat’, ‘fibre’, ‘healthy heart’. My friend wanted to show me that she was making healthy choices and the product did have some nutritional plus-points, but a quick look at the ingredient list told me that it also contained a lot of sugar.
Many products have sugar added during the manufacturing process. All food and drink packets have a list of ingredients, with the ingredients listed by weight in descending order (weightiest listed first, least weighty listed last). Generally, if sugar is listed among the first few ingredients then the product will contain a lot of sugar.
However, manufacturers often disguise sugar by using various names to describe it in the ingredients list. Foods and drinks may contain a number of different types of sugar, listed separately, making it more difficult to decide if a food actually has large quantities of sugar. If you add together all the sugars listed on a product, the total could make up a significant part of the product.
When looking for sugar on a food label, look out for the following:
- Ingredients ending in ‘-ose’ – including maltose, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, saccharose, xylose
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Rice syrup
- Golden syrup, maple syrup
- Honey, molasses, treacle
- Raw sugar, brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Invert sugar
Since sugar is ‘hidden’ in many manufactured products it is easy to eat a great deal of sugar just by consuming regular, every day food and drinks. Below is a list of ingredients for a ‘light’ breakfast bar (copied directly from a supermarket website) – see how many sugars you can find in this product
Cereals (36%) (Whole Oats, Rice, Whole Wheat), Prebiotic Oligofructose Syrup (30%), Dried Apple Pieces (5.7%) (with Preservative: Sulphur Dioxide), Sugar, Cereal Flours (Rice Flour, Wheat Flour), Dextrose, Humectant: Glycerol, Fruit Juice Concentrates (Grape, Strawberry (0.6%), Raspberry (0.5%)), Glucose Syrup, Vegetable Oil, Sweetened Cranberries (1.9%) (Cranberries, Sugar), Freeze Dried Raspberries (1.1%), Maize Starch, Milk Lactose, Milk Yogurt Powder, Natural Flavourings, Malted Barley Extract, Citric Acid, Elderberry Juice Extract, Salt, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin, Acidity Regulator: Malic Acid, Antioxidant: Tocopherols.
If you have a ‘sweet tooth’ the good news is that our taste buds do change over the course of a few weeks and that we soon become accustomed to foods or drinks that are less sweet once we start to cut down on sugar. Rather than swap to sweeteners, try to cut down on sugar (perhaps the sugar in your tea or coffee or choose a different breakfast cereal) – some people like to cut-down slowly and others like to go ‘cold turkey’. I have spoken to many people over the years who say they could never go back to 2 spoons of sugar in their tea (‘too sweet’, they say). So there is hope for anyone with a sweet tooth…many have been on the path before and succeeded.
For more information about sugar, it’s effect on our health and healthier choices – see the Food Fact sheet on Sugar from the British Dietetic Association