Sugars in Processed Foods Aren't Always Obvious

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Posted: 09/02/2017 Print

Sugars in Processed Foods Aren't Always Obvious

Guest blog by Sam Hadadi,

Sugars in Processed Foods

We all know that cans of Coke, fruit juices, cakes and bumper packs of sweets pack in an eye-watering amount of sugar but have you ever stopped to consider those so-called healthier foods as you pop them into your trolley? The yoghurts and the snack bars, for example.

A Canadian study revealed that two-thirds of all packaged foods contained at least one added sugar, meaning that nearly all foods you find on the supermarket shelves are laden with (sometimes) hidden sugars…

After looking at more than 40,000 commonly-bought packaged foods and drinks in Canada, the researchers discovered that 66 per cent of the products – which included some infant formulas, baby food products and many so-called 'healthier' foods such as yoghurt, juice, breakfast cereals and snack bars – contained at least one added sugar in their ingredients.

When you consider that the “s-word” has been linked to all kinds of illness and disease, including obesity, type II diabetes and liver disease1, it’s enough to really make you think.

Tomato and Anchovy Pasta Sauce - homemade with no added sugar

The Study

The research, by Public Health Ontario (PHO) and the University of Waterloo, looked at the ingredients of a whopping 40,829 packaged foods and drinks sold at national supermarket chains in Canada.

Narrowing things down a little, the researchers searched for 30 different added sugar terms from obvious words such as 'sugar' right through to dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose and fruit juice concentrate. In this study, 'added sugars' were seen as all sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, as well as the ‘natural’ sweeteners such as honey, syrups and fruit juices.

While there were plenty of added sugars in foods you might expect, such as sweets, cakes, crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks (of these, 86 per cent contained at least one added sugar) it was the sugars found in so-called ‘healthy’ items that really give cause for concern.

In fact, the white stuff was found lurking in all sorts of the ‘healthy’ options, such as granola bars and low-fat yoghurt. Yet, even more worryingly, was the fact that sweeteners were also found in almost half of all infant formulas and baby food too.

Dr. Erin Hobin, a scientist who worked on the research team, said: "People may be surprised to learn how many packaged foods and beverages have sugars added to them, especially foods that most would consider 'healthier.

Is This True in the UK?

It’s difficult to say, since the study was carried out in Canada but with more and more coming out about sugar, it's worth a reminder to check labels of what we're eating.

Although the World Health organisation advises that we get just 5% of our calories from sugar, we as a nation are eating far, far more. In fact, just last year, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey warned that us adults get just over 12 per cent of our food energy from added sugars2 (and this doesn’t include fruit or natural sugars!). Teens get 15.2 per cent of theirs from white stuff, while children find theirs from up to 13.4.

It all paints a pretty gloomy picture, doesn’t it?

Some common, everyday, packaged foods which include sugar are:

  • salad dressings
  • drinking chocolate
  • pasta sauces
  • granola bars
  • coleslaw
  • ketchup
  • yoghurt

Why Is Sugar So Bad For Me?

While the amounts may not sound all that significant, the reality is that sugar is bad for both our health and our body.

Sugar is often in salad dressings

Endless scientists and health experts have argued that sugar is the biggest contributor3 to the obesity epidemic, with studies confirming that there is a link between the amount of fructose (a sugar we have been warned to avoid4 like the plague) we consume and obesity levels.

Yet more studies4 have shown that sugar makes us more likely to binge eat, while the World Health Organisation has warned of  “increasing concern” that sugars could cause diseases such as diabetes and tooth decay.

In fact, high sugar diets are thought to be responsible for a huge array of diseases. Not only is it linked to diabetes and obesity but it’s also believed to lead to binge eating, and associated issues.

What Can I Do?

Let’s face it, some of us are simply cursed with a sweet tooth. Yet what can we do to avoid the dangers of hidden sugars? And what should we be doing to ditch the white stuff…?

Sugar is Sugar

Well, first up is this word of warning: all sugars, whether they’re refined or unrefined, need to be consumed in moderation. Our body can’t keep up with huge surges of sugar and eating too much will often lead to our waistline expanding and those beloved skinny jeans refusing to go over the knees!

If you want to reach for something sugary, then natural sweeteners (many of which contain small amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals) do make for better options than white table sugar – just proceed with caution!

You can read more about our lowdown on sugars and sugar alternatives by clicking here.

Avoid 'low fat' as this usually means sugar has been added and instead, opt for a smaller portion of the 'full fat' option.

Read the Labels

We're fans of making our own sauces, breads etc. meaning we're in control of what goes into them but we appreciate that this isn't always an option, in which case, reading labels is a good start.

As always, arm yourself with knowledge! On the ingredients' list, the higher up an ingredient is, the more of that ingredient is in the product. It's also worth checking the nutrition panel and checking 'Carbohydrates of which sugars' - this includes both natural and added sugars. At least this way, you're aware of what you're eating.

What do you think? Are we eating too much sugar? Let me know by leaving your comments here or get in touch with us on twitter.

Sam Hadadi Signature

  1. Liver Disease and Sugary Drinks
  2. The Guardian's report on eating too much sugar
  3. Sugar not fat exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic
  4. Fructose: the Dangers of the EU Ruling

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About Sam

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.

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