Friday, 27 March 2015

Sugar: the missing (label) link

I have this pet peeve about sugar and it's drawn attention to every time I look at the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on the back of a food label (which is relatively often considering I'm a Dietitian and like knowing what's in my food). And it's not what's there that bothers me, but rather what ISN'T there: a row under total sugars labelled 'added sugar'.

Why does this bother me so much? Maybe because there's a big difference between sugars naturally occurring in the food to those added by man to sweeten a product. And yes, this problem could be solved by simply avoiding all packaged and processed foods, which is certainly a good aim to have, but isn't all that realistic for the average person.

Consider the amount of sugar in a bowl of natural muesli (21%) versus a chocolate chip muesli bar (also 21%). While they may have the same amount of sugars (total) they certainly aren't comparable nutritionally. And that's because the sweetness in the muesli is coming from sugars naturally occurring in the dried fruit, while the muesli bar contains added sugar in both the choc chips and the bar itself

Similarly, plain Greek yoghurt (with no added sugar) still has 4.8% sugars and that's because dairy products contain lactose, a naturally occurring sugar. Whereas, a low fat strawberry flavoured yoghurt which has 12.6% sugars contains a mix of natural and added sugars (but mostly sugar added for sweetness).

So be mindful when looking at labels that you make a mental note to differentiate between natural and added sugars by looking at the ingredients list. If the product contains a large proportion of fruit, milk or yoghurt then those products may have a higher content of sugars due to those naturally occurring in the fruit or dairy. But if sugar (or brown rice or malt syrup, honey, agave, molasses, dextran, glucose or invert sugar, or any other of sugars aliases) is listed on the label, particularly in the first few ingredients as they are listed in order of amount, then it's safe to say that product contains too much (added) sugar.

To find out more about reading labels, check out my post Nutrition Information Panels: Decoded.

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