Exposing the hidden sugar in your diet
by Alison McAleese, LiveLighter Victoria Campaign Manager and Dietitian
- November 14, 2017
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Sugar has certainly become a popular topic. But surprisingly, most of the sugar we eat and drink is 'hidden' - so we don't always know we're consuming it.
In terms of health risks, we only need to be concerned about ‘added sugar’. That is, sugar that has been added to food or drink.
Plain dairy foods and fruit naturally contain some sugar, but it’s not added. These are nutritious foods which should be included in a healthy diet without concern.
Food labels are your 'added sugar' friend
Identifying the ‘added sugar’ in food can be tricky, but reading food labels is a good starting point.
Firstly, check the ingredients list for sugar. But beware – there are over 40 different names for sugar and some foods can contain different types. For example, a muesli bar can have honey and invert sugar, while a breakfast biscuit can contain glucose syrup and sugar. Here are some of the common names for sugar to look out for on food labels:
If you see more than one of these names in an ingredients list, see them more than once, or see one of them in the first 4 ingredients, the food is likely to be high in added sugar.
Avoid the red
Next, look at the nutrition information panel. Added sugar usually isn’t labelled, but you can try to work it out from the total sugar amount.
Any foods with more than 15g sugar per 100g are definitely high in added sugar and should be limited. The best choices are foods with less than 5g sugar per 100g.
It’s trickier when foods contain milk or fruit as well as added sugars.
We recently found that it was difficult to estimate the amount of added sugar in yoghurts. Desserts and cereals or mueslis with fruit can also be tricky.
As a rule of thumb, about 5-6% of the sugar in yoghurt and milk is lactose and is naturally occurring, so anything above that is added.For fruit-based dishes, check the ingredients list for signs of added sugar.
If you don’t have time to read food labels and want to cut back on added sugar, there are lots of delicious foods you can choose that don’t contain added sugar.
And try our delicious fruity waters for a refreshing change from sugary drink.
To make it easier to find hidden sugars, the Obesity Policy Coalition and consumer group CHOICE are calling for added sugars to be labelled on food packets. To find out more, or get involved, head to their campaign webpage.