Unfortunately we live in a world where processed, high sugar foods are hard to avoid. In addition, sugar is added to many foods that do not even taste sweet meaning that nearly all processed and ready-made food contains some sort of added sugar.
The problem is that excessive sugar consumption is dangerous. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends adults get only 5% of their daily calories from sugar. This is 25 g of sugar in total equivalent to 5-6 teaspoons. Excessive sugar intake contributes to many serious illnesses such as fatty liver, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Your breakfast alone might exceed the safe sugar level
100 g of cereal could contain 3 to 9 teaspoons of sugar. A standard 330 ml can of soda or fruit juice can contain around 7 teaspoons of sugar, a chocolate snack bar 7 teaspoons, one glass of lemonade 5.5 teaspoons,. Many products that we don’t expect to contain sugar contain it. Burger buns, long life breads, ketchup, crackers, ready made salad dressings and processed cheese can all contain significant sugar.
Food labelling tricks
Finding out the sugar content of a product is not always easy. The food industry knows consumers are on the look out for sugar and play tricks with labelling. You must look for more than the word “sugar” on labels. Sugar can be broken down into sugar types with different names and food producers do this for a reason. Nutritional labels are required to list ingredients in percentage order, so all sugars combined and described as sugar would often push it to the top of the ingredients list, alarming many customers. If on the other hand manufacturers break sugar down into two or three different types of sugar, they can spread the sugar percentage across two or three technically different ingredients and move them down the list. Very sneaky! Therefore it is vital to pay attention to the different names and types of sugar like high fructose corn syrup (or any other syrups), inverted sugar, agave nectar, honey, molasses sucrose or anything else that ends in “-ose”.
In some countries such as the UK the sugar percentage is not always displayed. Percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate are all you get. The amount of sugar is buried in the total carbohydrate percentage. The labelling rules are better in Switzerland. Here there is a requirement to show the share of carbohydrates comprised of sugar – sucres in French and zucker in German.
Watch out for fruit juice
Another food industry marketing myth is that fruit juice is better than soda. There might be more nutritional value but the sugar content is usually the same, sometimes higher. It is very difficult to consume too much sugar by eating unprocessed fruit, however juicing fruit concentrates calories and sugar even if no sugar is added. Drinking a 330 ml glass of orange juice is equivalent to eating almost 10 oranges. That’s an easy way to consume a lot of fruit and sugar, albeit natural. Especially when compared to a zero calorie glass of water.
By Irina Schurov
Many cereals ‘have more sugar than deserts’ (BBC – in English)
Many cereals are ‘high in sugar’ (BBC – in English)
How fruit juice went from health food to junk food (The Guardian – in English)