Identifying Hidden Sugars: Isn't There A Simpler Way?

Identifying Hidden Sugars: Isn’t There A Simpler Way?

Most Australians would be familiar with the Heart Foundation Tick system that provides consumers with a quick way of spotting which products are low fat foods. While there is some debate as to how helpful this information really is (because foods given the ‘tick’ often turn out to have a very high sugar content), it’s clear that the system has been very successful in influencing consumers. That’s because it’s so simple: when the tick is present you know that the food is a low fat version.


So why can’t we do the same to help consumers quickly identify which products have less added “free sugar”?

Free sugar is defined by the WHO (The World Health Organisation) as sugars added to food by the manufacturer, cook or consumer; plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices and fruit concentrates.

In its guidelines, WHO strongly recommends that daily intake of free sugars not exceed 10% of total energy—both for adults and children. However in its latest draft guidelines (2014),  WHO states a further reduction to 5 per cent “would have additional benefits”.

That would be equivalent to around a six teaspoon limit per day.

We think that this recommendation is something that should be taken seriously since sugar doesn’t just affect your dental health: it also has a big impact on your general health. Sugar is a known contributor to obesity and chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

But, How Can We Avoid The Hidden Sugars?

With the way products are packaged, it can be very hard to limit your intake of sugar simply because there are “hidden” sugars in certain products. To know what’s in the product, you have to read the ingredients label. To spot all the hidden sugars, you have to know all the words that are used to describe sugar. Here’s a list that you might find interesting:

Reading labels takes time, and research shows us (at least in the US) that consumers tend not to read them, and are instead ‘creatures of habit’ when it comes to filling their grocery carts: How Much Do Consumers Use and Understand Nutrition Labels 

Another challenge is that packaging is typically enhanced with strong marketing messages that convince the consumer that the contents are 100 per cent good, healthy stuff. How often have you heard the child-led conversation in the cereal aisle that ‘Fruit Loops’ must be healthy because they contain fruit? I once questioned a lady in her 60s about why she chose to eat Nutrigrain, which is 32% sugar (a whopping 3 teaspoons per serve). She answered, quite seriously, that she knew it to be a healthy choice because of the ads on TV.

This interesting document by the author of Sweet Poison lists popular breakfast cereals, the percentage of free sugars, and how many teaspoons that equates to per 50 gram serve.

Can We Make Things Simpler?

Just like the Heart Foundation Tick, isn’t it time that we introduced a system that allowed consumers a quick and easy way to see how much sugar was in every standard serve of every product on the shelf?

A simple box containing a simple visual piece of information: 1 serve contains 5 teaspoons of sugar.

Follow this up with a strong advertising campaign to teach us all that we should limit our sugar intake to preferably 5 teaspoons a day, and simple maths does the rest!

Read about what they are proposing to do in Wales: