Added sugar has been in the news a lot recently, with a sugar tax on the horizon, we’ve taken a closer look at the real meaning of added sugar, how it sneaks into our shopping basket and what you can do to cut down your intake.
What is added sugar?
You might have heard of the term ‘added sugar’ and can probably guess it’s bad for you, but have you ever stopped to consider what it actually means?
Added sugars are the sugars and syrups added to our food by manufacturers during processing. Simple enough, right? But they are rarely listed as straightforward ‘sugar’, and instead have alternative names. There are at least 44 creative names for sugar, including fructose, glucose, malto-dextrin and dehydrated cane juice – quite the mouthful!
To add to this sticky mess, the term ‘free sugar’ can also be used to describe added sugar, just in case you weren’t confused yet.
And if that’s not enough, they’re often tucked away at the bottom of the ingredients list to be intentionally misleading.
It’s important to know that added sugars are not sugars that appear naturally in fruit, veg and dairy and, generally speaking, you should be including plenty of these foods in your diet.
What is the recommended daily sugar intake?
The recommended guidelines from the NHS state that an adult should have no more than seven teaspoons of added sugar each day.
Sugar is high in calories, meaning it takes more effort to burn off which is why a diet high in sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity. These can cause further health issues like heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes.
90% of people don’t know their sugar allowance
We conducted a poll of the UK public to see if they understood their recommended added sugar allowance.
Surprisingly, our survey revealed that the public underestimate the amount of added sugar that the NHS recommends we should be having each day, a huge 48% of people said they thought they were only allowed 2 teaspoons of added sugar each day.
While it’s sweet news that the public are becoming more aware of the dangers of sugar, this survey shows that perhaps we aren’t so clued up as we should be. It’s important that we don’t completely demonise sugar, because, as discussed above, fruit, veg and dairy contains sugar, and these foods are essential for a balanced diet.
Fitness First spokesperson and personal trainer, Carly Tierney, explains:
‘Of course we want to see the public cut down on these unhealthy foods, and bringing the conversation of sugar into the mainstream can only be a good thing. However, fruits are an essential part of our diet but are also high in natural sugars. By labelling sugar as the ‘enemy’ without educating consumers, we are also at risk of confusing people.’
What is the sugar tax?
A 500ml bottle of Coke contains the equivalent of a whopping 17 cubes of sugar.
Health campaigners have been petitioning for a tax on added sugar for some time, with chef Jamie Oliver leading the way back in 2015 . His campaign was well supported with 150,000 people signing his e-petition for a tax to fizzy drinks.
The good news is the government listened, and the sugar tax, confirmed in the budget on 8th March, will tax drinks based on their sugar content, with the average can of Coke rising by approximately 8p from April 2018.
The government had said the money raised - an expected £520m a year - will be spent on tackling child obesity and increasing funding for sport in primary schools.
Swapping sugar for sweetener
Drinks manufacturers are already finding ways to get around this new tax; the makers of Irn-Bru has said they will reformulate their secret recipe to cut down on sugar, and more changes from other companies are expected.
But if manufacturers do decide to change their ingredients, and simply replace sugar with artificial sweeteners to satisfy our sweet tooth, these could also have a detrimental effect on our health.
As Carly explains:
“Not all artificial sweeteners are created equally, for example Aspartame has been controversially linked to brain tumours and cancer. I would always recommend to my clients they substitute sugar for a sweetener derived from natural sources, like Stevia.”
Could there be another way to look at this problem? Healthy snacks can be on the pricey side, while sweet treats are quick, convenient and cheap to get hold of.
Campaigners like #DontTaxHealthy, offer an alternative view and are petitioning the government to cut VAT to the reduced rate of 5% on all low sugar food and drink. They believe ‘this will bring hundreds of lower sugar products into price parity with their ordinary counterparts and crucially, will scrap the price barrier which so many of us face.’
What are hidden sugars?
It doesn’t take a genius to know that chocolate, cakes and fizzy drinks contain a lot of sugar, and for most health-conscious people, junk food is an occasional treat and not something to tuck into all the time.
So perhaps the real problem is when added sugar is hidden in the everyday foods that we’d all typically consider as healthy. Yoghurt, granola bars, fruit, ketchup, salad dressings and pasta sauces are just some of the foods that we consume on a daily basis that are actually high in added sugar.
What about sugar content in fruit?
As explained earlier, fruits are high in natural sugars, (along with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre). While we recommend you get your five a day fruit and veg intake, if you’re looking to lose weight, eating a lot of sugary fruit won’t help you cut the calories that you need.
To cut down on your sugar intake while still getting the benefits of fruit, we’d recommend satisfying your sweet tooth with raspberries, with less sugar than most other berries (8 grams per cup) and high in fibre. Snacking on these superfoods will help to avoid the dreaded sugar spike and keep your gut healthy too.
Unfortunately, for many of us eating sugar can become somewhat of a habit, and the more we eat it the more we crave. For our top tips on curbing your sugar habit, check out 11 ways to overcome your sugar addiction.
A healthy pasta recipe to get you started
Pasta is the world’s favourite food and it’s a great source of slow release carbs. However, pasta sauces can be so high in salt and sugar, that even the manufacturers recommend you only eat them once a week.
So to make sure we’re staying on the right side of healthy, making pasta sauces from scratch is your best bet. It’s much easier than it sounds, and the result is a far more satisfying, fresh and healthy meal than from a jar.
This homemade pasta sauce is so simple, quick and cheap to make, you’ll be able to whip it up for a fulfilling midweek meal in a flash.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 kg fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
- 150 ml vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and garlic
- Add the tomatoes and stock. Cook over a moderate heat for 20–30 minutes or until the sauce is thick
- Whizz up in a food processor if you’d like a smoother texture
- Stir in salt and pepper to taste and reheat the sauce… Easy as pie! (And better for you)