Let’s make it easier for people to make low sugar food choices
In the UK, I believe we need to make it easier for people to a ) understand sugar and b) make better food choices, especially when they’re on the go, or busy with work and/or children. So, I’m astounded that there is still so much confusion created by terrible food labeling across the board AND the amount of healthy looking high sugar foods there are everywhere!
That’s why I created the Sugar lunch report, for the Daily Mail, because as my clients were coming to me and expressing their frustration and confusion, I went to take a look for myself. This blog and indeed the Sugar story is not meant to be a rant at the shops involved, after all there are some wonderfully healthy things alongside the high sugar culprits we found – see below. But more to appeal to them to PLEASE make things easier for consumers, just as Jamie Oliver has been campaigning for in his Sugar Rush campaign.
When choosing lunch or snacks on the go, people are usually in a rush and often they don’t have time to scrutinize the label on the back and perhaps they don’t even understand how to read labels. You are not alone by the way! When I delivered my understanding labels and low fat learning webinar on my very popular Food Management Made Easy program and broke down understanding sugar on my SugarHIIT program, the response was phenomenal, “Why and how did I not know this?!” was a common thing to read, “How do they get away with this labelling?” and mostly “Gosh this is so confusing!”
In summary, the main problems we have at the moment are:
- The WHO have changed their sugar guidelines so we have conflicting advice and different traffic light systems in place as a result. The NHS are also advising we can have a much higher daily sugar amount, although hopefully this will be lowered soon now the WHO have got serious on sugar.
- Some shops provide nutritional information on the packaging yet not on their website, others have it on their website and not on their packaging! It’s helpful to be able to see things on BOTH so that a) you’re not given evils by the M & S Store Manager when you’re on the shop floor with a calculator (you could do some research from home instead!) and b) if you don’t have the time or inclination to go online, it’s helpful to have it in store too (EAT and Pret frustratingly don’t have in store info on the packaging – although you can ask for it, not exactly consumer-friendly!)
- No labels distinguish between sugar that is naturally found in food and added sugar. The WHO at present tells us to not worry about sugar found naturally in food (fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products and carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, bread etc), but do warn us of concentrated fruit sugars like juice and smoothies as well as added sugar (table sugar, honey, treacle, glucose syrup, fructose, fructose corn syrup etc). But without going through the label and ingredients list with a fine tooth comb (if available), you simply can’t tell what is in a product.
- The things manufacturers and shops can get away with is quite frankly appalling. One of the things I was most shocked with was a packet of ‘Dried Cranberries’ I found in Marks and Spencers on a ‘healthy eating’ point of sale where there were nuts / seeds etc. There was no red high sugar traffic labeling on the front and only when you turned the product over did it say the product was actually ‘sweetened dried cranberries’. Worse still the first ingredient on the ingredients list was added sugar! I asked my Fit for a Princess bootcampers about this and they all said they would have assumed they were just dried cranberries and if in a rush and bought it on a healthy point of sale they would assume there was no added sugar. There were nearly 70g of sugar in a small packet – so around 17 tsp of sugar, most of which is added. And nearly 3 times your advised daily sugar intake by the WHO. This is NUTS!
- Regarding the labeling, many consumers still aren’t aware that ingredients are listed in size order with the first being the largest and so on. So if you see sugar, honey, glucose syrup etc in the first few words, that’s a really good indicator that it’s very high in sugar and you might want to swap it! Sugar you find at the bottom of the ingredients list shouldn’t be completely ignored but small amounts of sugar are not the problem here.
- Low fat products, especially low fat dairy are one of the worst for hidden sugar. But again, many people don’t realize that there is naturally occurring lactose sugar in dairy (approx. 5g per 100g). So if you buy a low fat yogurt that has 15g of sugar per 100g, you know they’ve added it! Some of the most naturally looking, organic low fat yogurts have sugar or glucose syrup as their first added ingredient, yet NO red alarm!
- Similarly, labels do not always state per serving or per pack. One nutty flapjack I looked at had info per 100g and calories per bar, but did NOT state how much sugar was in a bar. This is what consumers need to know and although I could take a rough guess at what it was, it took me and my Dad about 5 minutes with a calculator to work it out. This is in no way helpful to consumers!
- Because of what the idiotic dieting industry have taught us over the last few years, people are still ‘afraid’ to eat full fat things like mayonnaise. But the Mayo-free sandwiches and low calorie options were often full of sugary sauces. A bit of full fat mayo has no sugar in it, yes you may want to be careful eating it by the bucket load, but a scraping of mayo in a sarnie has a much more positive impact on the body (and waistline!) than something like BBQ sauce.
- Just because greens are good for you and are very on trend at the moment you still need to be careful by seeing what it is the thing you’re buying. Green juices we found were laden with 80% apple juice (concentrated sugar) and if they contained vegetables (much less sugar and much healthier for you), they were such small percentages!
- There were lots of great healthy alternatives in all the stores I went to BUT, unless you’re checking the back of each packet, it is impossible to make simple lower sugar switches. We need to have a clearer traffic labeling system that shows the tsp of ADDED sugar in each serving / package so if people are trying to follow the new WHO guidelines (that’s aiming for 6-7 tsp of added sugar a day – the amount will vary slightly on personal body size guidelines), they can make better choices easily.
I want to make it clear that I’m certainly not saying to people they can never have sugar again (unless you’re very sugar sensitive in which case you are probably better cutting it out completely – like a heroine addict who can’t dip in and out of injecting themselves and needs to go cold turkey). But if you’re going to indulge in something , want to have sugar and perhaps want to also keep within the WHO guidelines for health reasons, my view is why waste it on things like sandwiches, yogurts and drinks on the go! Get sugar savvy and savour your sugar indulgence if you really want it and better still, don’t waste your sugar quota on things you think are healthy! Don’t be afraid of some sugar, choosing your lunch shouldn’t be stressful. But until labels are standardised and nutritional information and ingredients are listed online and on each product, it really is worth having a second glance to see if you can choose something that will enhance your health and save calories too.
Here is a summary of what you could choose instead at each of the outlets mentioned in the report I prepared:
Pret – could choose chicken broccoli & brown rice soup (370g), no added sugar whatsoever, 3.7g of sugar (found naturally in vegetables / rice), coconut yogurt, 2.2g per pot, no added sugar and a still water, 0g of sugar total – 5.9g of naturally occurring sugar – but NO added sugar. This swap means you have no added sugar, saving you nearly 16tsp of sugar
EAT – could choose hot smoked salmon and potato salad with beans, peas and parsley, per serving (including dressing) – just 1.6g of sugar, pack of Smokey almond and corn – 1.3g of sugar per pack with 2.9g of naturally occurring sugar – NO added sugar and a peppermint tea – 0g of sugar. Swap will save you 31 tsp of sugar!
M & S – could choose wheat free ham and salad roll 0.8g of sugar per pack (no added sugar), pot of pure coconut chunks 3.1g of sugar per pack (no added sugar), full fat natural yogurt -6g of sugar per 125g but but all from naturally occurring lactose sugar – no added sugar. Total 9.9g per lunch but NO added sugar, saving you 35 tsp of added sugar if you’d chosen the meal in the feature for M & S that includes their ‘healthy’ dreadful sweetened dried cranberries!
Boots – could choose a hoummas, carrot & coriander on tomato bread sandwich 8.9g of sugar mianly from naturally occurring sugar (if you check ingredients list there is a very small amount of sugar in the pickled carrot part but it is such a small ingredient), walkers sunbites baked crisps 2.7g of sugar per pack but no added sugar, shapers sparkling tropical fruit drink – 2g of sugar per bottle as only 3% fruit juice, total 13.6g (mostly naturally occurring sugar). Swap saving you 10 tsp of sugar
Tesco – could choose a roast chicken salad – 5.1g of sugar – just ABOUT ALL NATURALLY OCURRING sugar – there is a v small amount of sugar in the low fat mayo), Tesco full fat greek style yogurt 5.4g of sugar per serving and NO added sugar and a Tesco sparkling water – 0g of sugar. Total – 10.5g sugar (practically all naturally occurring sugar). The swap saving you 13 tsp if sugar!
Sainsbury’s – could choose a cheese and tomato – 3.4g sugar per pack. Very small amount of muscovado sugar in the bread but one of the lowest ingredients so practically all this is mainly naturally occurring, packet of blueberries 150g – 15g of naturally occurring sugar, Get more Vitamin D drink 500ml – 0.5g of sugar. Total = 18.9g but no added sugar. Swap would mean you save 39.2g of sugar or 9.8 tsp of added / concentrated fruit sugar
ASDA – could choose tuna salad sandwich – 5.8g of sugar per pack and no added sugar, Yeo valley natural yogurt 6.5g per small pot (all naturally occurring), Volvic still natural water – 0g of sugar. Total 12.1g of sugar – 3 tsp of naturally occurring sugar but NO added sugar. Swap would save you over 13 tsp of added sugar!
For more information on Sugar, please visit my sugar blogs, or if you want some help understanding sugar (and maybe even to beat it!), then come and do my SugarHIIT or Food Management Made Easy program which start on the 14th Jan.
Hope this has been helpful :o)