The Great Sugar Con
Sugar has made the headlines as it has now been linked to obesity and a wide range of health complaints. The World Health Organisation are recommending a maximum of 6 teaspoons per day which equates to 24g (4g per teaspoon). Pour this into a glass and it looks like a substantial amount.
I have been working with schools promoting healthy eating and what has shocked most parents is the amount of sugar in foods marketed directly at children as well as being promoted as healthy.
Lets take breakfast cereals. The labels on these are quite clear showing sugar, fat and calories per 30g but this got me thinking – how much is a 30g serving? I asked children to pour a bowl of cereal for themselves and we weighed it. Almost every child poured 60g or more into their bowl.
Typical Children’s Breakfast Cereals – per 30g
|Frosties||11g (2 ¾ tsp)|
|Krave||9g (2 ¼ tsp)|
|Sugar Puffs||8.7g (2 ¼ tsp)|
|Nestle Cookie Crisp||13.1g (3 ¼ tsp)|
|Golden Grahams||13.4g (3 1/3 tsp)|
|Cheerios||12.1g (4 tsp)|
|Fruit and Fibre||9.6g (2 ½ tsp)|
|Special K Chocolate||7.2g (1 ¾ tsp)|
|Raisin Oats & More||12.8g (3 ¼ tsp)|
|Eat Natural Buckwheat||12.2g (per 50g serving) (3 tsp)|
|Dorset Cereals Berries & Cherries||22g (per 45g serving) (5 ½ tsp)|
If we compare this to ‘healthy’, ‘Low Fat’ cereals and those promoting wholegrain and added vitamin benefits, you may be surprised. Remember these figures are per 30g serving and most of us eat 2 or 3 times that quantity in our breakfast bowls.
|Drink||Sugar per 250ml serving|
|Tropicana original orange juice||25g (6 ¼ tsp)|
|Innocent Energise Super Smoothie||32.5g (8 ¼ tsp)|
|Happy Monkey Smoothie||30.25g (7 ½ tsp)|
|Pom Pomegranate Juice||35g (8 ¾ tsp)
|Volvic Juiced Orchard Apple||16.8g (4 ¼ tsp
We haven’t even finished our breakfast and already we are over double our daily sugar intake.
Most of us, especially children, like a glass of orange juice with our breakfast cereal, or what about a healthy smoothie, bursting with vitamins and part of our essential 5 a day? A 250ml glass orange juice contains a whooping 25g of sugar – more than the daily recommendation by the world health organisation.
Moving on to our packed lunches for our children and things only get worse. Once again, the healthy options can often have more sugar. For example, Alpen Trail Bars contain 17g (4 ½ tsp) of sugar per bar. Jordan’s Frusli Raisin and Hazelnut cereal bar contains 9.6g (2 ½ tsp) of sugar. 9 Bar flax seed bars contain 12g (3 tsp) of sugar. If we are aiming at kid friendly packed lunch options – Barny Bear Biscuits fill our little darlings with 9.6g (2 ½ tsp) of sugar per small soft cake. McVities Iced Gems, a tiny bag contains 12.9g (3 ¼ tsp) of sugar. Marketed as part of our five a day – Kelloggs Fruit Winders – 6.3g (1 ½ tsp) per strip!
Fancy a nice low fat yoghurt? Activia Intensely creamy contains 13.8g (3 ½ tsp) per pot. Muller Bliss Lemon yoghurt a massive 23.4g (5 ¾ tsp) per pot, which is more than a Cadburys flake (18g – 4 ½ tsp). Children’s yoghurts and chilled desserts should be healthy but are anything but. Munch Bunch, claiming to help your children grow healthy bones, contains 11.4g (2 ¾ tsp) of sugar. Going organic? Yeo Valley Organic Little Yeos contain 9.7g (2 ½ tsp). Smarties split pots, 24.5g (6 ¼ tsp) – more than the WHO recommends per day! What about a healthy yoghurt lolly – Yollies, marketed for children, contain 12.8g (3 ¼ tsp) of sugar.
Savoury foods have not been excluded – your pasta sauce can contain up to 11 teaspoons of sugar. Interestingly, branded pasta sauce contains up to 4 times the sugar content of supermarket value brands.
For example – Lloyd Grossman Tomato And Basil Sauce contains 4.8g per 100g (16g (4 tsp) per 350g Jar) whereas Sainsburys Basics Tomato And Basil contains 1.8g per 100ml (9g (2 ¼ tsp) per 500ml Jar)
There was no real difference with own brand or branded baked beans – all containing a hefty 20-22g (5 ½ tsp) per tin. Heinz reduced sugar was the best with 9.4g per tin.
So what does all this mean? Labelling is not as straight forward as it should be with the manufacturers trying to confuse us. You need a calculator to work out serving sizes per gram and then convert that into teaspoons. When you read the amounts per teaspoon it is very scary – and that is why food manufacturers will never agree to a simple labelling system. We also need to start to be more savvy when it comes to marketing, particularly with products aimed at our children. For example, Nutella spread is promoted as a healthy chocolate spread, packed full of goodness, yet 56.8g per 100g is sugar. (over half!) Compare this to a chocolate spread from a company called Jim Jams who promote low sugar – only 8.7g per 100g.
I have only touched on a handful of everyday items – calculate your sugar intake per day and you will easily reach 30-40 teaspoons. Is it any wonder our bodies are suffering. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, inflammation, tooth decay, muscle and joint health, Alzheimer’s, nutritional deficiencies, cancer, mental health issues – the list is long and frightening.
I know it is not realistic to expect everyone to cut out all processed foods but if we were all more aware of what goes into our foods we can start making more informed choices and, who knows, maybe start putting pressure on the food manufacturers to stop filling us with sugar.
Top Tips to Cut Down on Sugar
- Eat real food – processed food is high in sugar and salt and often low in essential nutrients. Switch to Real Food.
- Swap your sugary cereal for a cooked breakfast such as poached eggs and grilled bacon.
- Eat your fruit rather than drink it – the additional fibre consumed slows down the digestion of the fructose
- Encourage your children to drink water or sugar free cordials instead of fruit juices and never give your baby or toddler juice, especially in a bottle.
- Eat natural yoghurt and combine with fresh fruit, berries, nuts and seeds.
- Ditch the sugary cereal bars and swap for a handful of almonds for your mid-morning snack.
- Start to read food labels – visualising the sugar per teaspoon or sugar cube (4g) can be a great reality check.
Want to read more and find some delicious recipes? I would recommend Sarah Wilsons – I Quit Sugar or That Sugar Film.