Sugar-free”, “fat-free”, “light”, these labels are plastered over packaging everyday as we browse the supermarket aisles. With a growing trend toward health conscious eating, the marketing tricks brands employ to attract consumers to their “healthy” products have become both deceiving and confusing.
Currently in the media, there is a spotlight on sugar and the role it plays in our diets. The sugar content of the foods we choose has become increasingly important for us to consider, with sugar being connected to a range of health issues from heart disease to Type 2 Diabetes.
Being able to make informed choices to reduce our sugar-intake on a daily basis has become a very important issue. The problem is, with all this hype, manufacturers have resorted to a few tricks on the packaging of their products so making informed choices is becoming increasingly difficult when it comes to sugar consumption.
Things to look out for…..
Sugar has 60 different names, and as a result, sugar can often be ‘hidden’ unrecognisably or the content highly downplayed by clever nutritional labelling and wording.
The No Added Sugar Trap
When a product claims to have ‘no added sugar’ or is ‘natural’, we need to be wary because even though it may appear to be a healthy option, that is not always the case. With sugar hiding in a high proportion of packaged foods, we’re being fooled into thinking products are healthy when they’re loaded with sugar.
For example, a bottle of fruit juice or snack bar declaring ‘no added sugar’ on its label simply means that when the product was being made, no sugars are added to those which naturally occur in the product – it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is low in sugar or that it’s a healthy choice
The raw food bars that seem to be very popular at the moment, may contain no obvious signs of sugar when you look at the ingredients lists but they do contain a lot of “naturally-occuring” sugar in the form of dried fruits (usually dates). Dried fruit is naturally dense with sugars which means you go over your daily sugar allowance without even realising. It’s easy to think that these are low sugar products when you read the “no added sugar” claims on the packaging.
A good rule of thumb is that sugars naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables and dairy are okay but we do need to be wary of how much sugar processed products contain albeit natural or not.
What’s the difference between naturally occurring sugar and added sugar?
Fructose for example, is what makes foods sweet and is found naturally in certain foods like fruit. There is a big difference in eating fructose from fruit and eating it in a ‘free’ or ‘added’ form.
Fructose in fruit is encased in fibre which hugely affects its metabolism in our bodies. The fibre helps to slow down the absorption and so it doesn’t get fast, direct access to the liver like it does when it is ‘free’, for example in syrups and some juices.
Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products. If you look at the nutrition label for whole milk you will see it has sugar in it, however this is natural sugar from lactose. Products such as flavoured milks will contain lactose, a natural sugar, as well as added sugar. The same goes for yogurt, and low fat yoghurts with added flavours.
To avoid the traps on labels, start making your decisions other than just believing the claims on the front of the packaging. Look instead at the nutritional panel at the back of the product.
Take a loaf of white bread for example….
Search for the subtitle “carbohydrate” then look for the sub-heading ” of which sugars” to obtain the breakdown of what the product actually contains. Under the title “sugars” this can mean naturally occurring too.
As we can see from the example, each slice of bread contains 1.7g of sugar. Ideally for a product to be classed as a low sugar food we would want to aim for the sugar content to be less than 5g per 100g. Take into account that a typical serving is 2 slices, this takes us to 3.4g of sugar and we’ve not even reached 100g in weight yet. So ignoring other reasons that doesn’t make white bread an the ideal choice, purely on sugar content alone it’s probably best to avoid it.
We then need to determine what kinds of sugars are making up the total sugar count. To do this, look at the ingredient list, which lists all ingredients in descending order. The position of an ingredient on this list will indicate how much of that ingredient makes up the overall product.
The higher up an ingredient is on the list, the more of that ingredient a product contains – so you want to avoid products that have added sugars earlier in the list than any naturally occurring sugars.
This distinction is quite important, as the naturally occurring sugars aren’t necessarily reason for concern, and contain various vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Some examples of this are sugars in Natural / Greek/ Unsweetened yogurt which come from lactose, or sugars derived from ingredients such pumpkin, coconut or sweet potato.
Familiarise yourself with the different names of sugar and look for them hidden in your product. As you can see from the above ingredients list, sugar is listed as the third ingredients and on top of that many other sources of sugar are included too.
Knowing what nutritional information to look for can help you make the best choices for your health and avoid unnecessary added sugars in your diet, without having to avoid sugar completely. Just become more aware of the marketing tactics and tricks that happen everyday.