Labels ‘disguise’ sugar levels, say campaigners

Soft drinks and sweets often contain more than the recommended daily intake of added sugar for an adult say campaigners. Picture: Getty
Soft drinks and sweets often contain more than the recommended daily intake of added sugar for an adult say campaigners. Picture: Getty
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CAMPAIGNERS have criticised misleading food labels for concealing the high levels of added sugar contained in products.

Labelling on sugary drinks and sweet snacks points out what percentage of the recommended daily intake of sugar it contains, but reports have shown these are based on the total sugars rather than added sugars, which have no nutritional value.

Fat actually helps to slow down the digestion of sugar

Nutritionist Emma Conroy

There is a higher allowance for naturally-occurring sugars than for so-called “free sugars” added for taste, which are linked to obesity and tooth decay.

Food companies say they are following European legislation but campaigners have described the situation as “confusing” for consumers.

Scottish nutritionist Emma Conroy said: “I would be all for clearer labelling on different kinds of sugars.

“Labelling is a complicated issue. One of my biggest bugbears is you often see carbohydrates listed, then ‘of which sugars’ below that.

“I’ve always thought that was a fairly confusing way to communicate that.”

A 330ml can of Coca-Cola contains almost nine teaspoons of sugar, or 35g, which makes up 117 per cent of an adult’s daily sugar allowance, as all the sugars in the drink are added during processing rather than being naturally occurring.

On the label is states it is only 39 per cent of the total allowance.

A 45g portion of Starburst fruit sweets contains 9.3 teaspoons of sugar that would represent 124 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily intake of added sugar, yet the label states that the confectionary contains 41 per cent of the daily allowance of total sugar.

UK government advisers recently recommended that the daily intake of free sugars should be halved from 10 per cent to 5 per cent in a bid to tackle soaring obesity levels.

The new guidelines from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) call for people over the age of 11 to consume no more than seven teaspoonfuls of sugar a day – less than a can of Irn-Bru.

A simple way to check the amount of sugar in a product is to look at the ingredients list, Ms Conroy said.

Ingredients are listed in order of size so any of the names for sugar – such as fructose or glucose – anywhere near the start of the list indicate a high sugar content.

Ms Conroy, who runs the firm Edinburgh Nutrition, said: “I am very positive about this sustained attention to sugars rather than fats which I think has been a long time coming.

“The impact that sugar has on the body, which is what is being looked at here, is entirely affected by what it comes with. So for example a low-fat yoghurt with added sugar will have a much higher impact on the body’s blood sugar than a full fat yoghurt with sugars naturally occurring in lactose.

“Fat actually helps to slow down the digestion of sugar.”

Ministers backed the calls for clarity on food labelling, as part of a sustained drive to reduce obesity levels north of the Border.

Public health minister Maureen Watt said: “The Scottish Government has always been supportive over calls to make food labelling clearer and more consistent as part of our commitment to creating a healthier Scotland.

“We recognise the benefits of providing such information to consumers so that they are more aware of the nutritional composition of their food and to help them make informed dietary choices.

“We are already taking action in a range of ways to improve diet and reduce obesity, including a £10 million investment over a four-year period on projects to encourage healthy eating – which includes eating more fruit and vegetables, eating less salt, fat and added sugar, and becoming more active.”