Hidden sugar? Not a conspiracy theory.

STOP PRESS: that sticky date pudding will send you over your recommended sugar intake faster than you can say “and I’ll have a hot chocolate with that, thanks.” I know. Sugar again? Are your eyes glazing over with yet another post about the dangers of sugar? This is completely irrelevant to you: you don’t eat pudding anyway. With the draft proposed new sugar recommendations released by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending we slash our added sugar content by half, it could be worth paying more attention.

Do you know what the recommended maximum limit of sugar is? Most people don’t and for good reason  – there haven’t been the same hard and fast rules that draw a line in the sand about our sugar consumption as there have been for fat. However the proliferation of processed food, combined with escalating health problems are good reasons to relook at the limits recommended. The WHO are suggesting that we cut our sugar intake to 10% or less of our daily energy intake, or for optimal benefits, cut it down to just 5% of our energy intake. That equates to approximately 6 teaspoons or 25g of added sugar per day. That’s sugar added to the manufacturing process of food – either by the manufacturers, the chef’s, or the home cook – and not that which is naturally occurring in food (such as fructose in fruit, or lactose in dairy). It does however include fruit juice concentrate, maple syrup, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup and other sweeteners that have almost a health halo and are often overlooked because they are less refined than their white granulated counterpart. Again, if you’re not someone who adds sugar or any type of sweetener to food, then you may think this is irrelevant to you – particularly also if you read articles like this which highlight products that, in themselves, would send your sugar intake sky high.  The real problem with sugar, however, is that it is in places you might not expect it to be.

You may have heard of these ‘hidden’ sugars – 56 other names for what is essentially the same thing. Ingredients are listed in order of appearance in the product: the higher up the list, the more it contains. When you combine the sugar, glucose syrup, molasses and honey, over half of the energy in a product could come from sugar. A good example of this is the Europe muesli bar – this is like the original health bar. Even I was surprised that sugar was the first ingredient. Further along the list you’ll notice glucose syrup, sugar (again), dextrose and honey. This explains why, from the 40g bar, 19.4g of it is sugar.

Almost half of this 40g bar is sugar.

Almost half of this 40g bar is sugar.

Below are some common sugar traps that I see time and time again with clients.

Cereal: This is a common one, and not just for those eating Coco-pops. A cereal like Just Right, for example, has close to 13g per serve of sugar. Though half of it comes from dried fruit, this often includes juice concentrate in the preserving process. A bigger problem, though, is the amount actually consumed. How often have you wondered how on earth you’d get 10 serving sizes out of the box that lasted you just four breakfasts? Porridge is another one – the advent of the single sachet has brought with it many varieties to help alleviate the boredom of oats for breakfast. However, not only are the oats more refined than wholegrain oats, there can be an additional two teaspoons of sugar added. If you can’t bear the thought of a morning without oats, soak wholegrain oats overnight to remove some of the phytic acid (which inhibits absorption of nutrients). Better yet, avoid the cereal aisle altogether and have Eggs (aka a superfood worthy of capitalisation).

45g serve? As if!

45g serve? As if!

Condiments: I used to be a condiment queen – and a lot of people are. However, when one 15 ml serve of tomato sauce adds a teaspoon of additional sugar, and sweet chilli sauce adds close to three , the amount of added sugar can quickly add up – particularly if it’s your favourite sauce on kebabs, or you consume it in most meals. Unsurprisingly, chutneys and pickles can be the same. Often the brands that are a little more expensive tend to be made with better quality ingredients, and therefore don’t need to rely on sugar for flavour. Where possible, hunt these out. Or make them yourself. I find cherry tomatoes at the end of a season, roasted with olive oil, garlic, a bit of chilli and red onion delicious to have as a condiment. No sugar added and very cheap to make.

Low fat fruit yoghurt can provide additional sugar, and, even when attributing that present anyway (around 4-5g of lactose per 100g) it’s not uncommon for a 150g pottle to have 15g of sugar in total (or 10g that would count towards your added sugar intake. Another, bigger trap are the yoghurts that are labelled Greek or Natural, yet contain sugar in the ingredient list. Fresh and Fruity, Puhoi Valley, DeWinkle Greek yoghurt are just three that spring to mind. Piako is another local brand whose ‘natural’ yoghurt is almost as high in sugar as their flavoured varieties. However, they have recently brought out a much welcome ‘naked’ variety of Greek yoghurt that contains no additional sugar. I was chatting to the owner of Piako this morning during the Round the Bays fun run actually, and he said it took a long time to get the formulation right. I’m glad they persevered, as it tastes awesome. Always look at the ingredients list before purchasing a natural yoghurt.

Spot the difference.

Spot the difference.

Baked beans: a 440g can of baked beans contains 49.6g of carbohydrate, with nearly half of that (20.2g) coming from sugar. If you must eat these – look for a low sugar variety, usually placed a few rows down below the standard. A better alternative is to spend time whipping up your own, with chilli, garlic, tomato paste, tomatoes and perhaps a bit of balsamic vinegar. If you’re using baked beans as a protein source – there are better options. Try tinned fish instead.

We all know that fruit juice contains sugar – it is equivalent to soft drink in many instances. The sipper bottles invented for children are no different. Coconut water is often revered for its health benefits; while it does contain more electrolytes, it can also contain sugar that you just don’t need – 17g in this 330ml box. Even the plain ones contain sugar which not many people are aware of. I don’t mean to bore you but the best choice for fluid, for most people, is water.

Small but packing a hefty sugar punch.

Small but packing a hefty sugar punch.

So pay attention and start looking at the ingredient lists. Better yet, go whole food – you can’t go wrong.

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