Last week (30th October – 5th November) marked this year’s Sugar Awareness Week. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and highlight the next actions that must be taken to tackle obesity.
Excessive sugar consumption is fuelling the obesity epidemic. In the UK and across the Globe, individuals are consuming too much sugar through soft drinks, confectionery, sweet baked goods and, also through foods with high amounts of ‘hidden’ sugar.
Sugar has been high on the agenda for some time. The government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy, due to be implemented from April 2018, has already resulted in significant reductions in sugar in soft drinks. We now have a national sugar reduction programme, led by Public Health England (PHE), whereby companies have been asked to achieve a 20% reduction in the nine food categories which contribute the most sugar in children’s diets in 2020. PHE are due to launch an excess calorie reduction programme, alongside sugar, in the new year which is a great opportunity for companies to reduce the energy density of their higher calorie products, whilst improving the overall nutritional density.
A key focus of Sugar Awareness week this year was to urge retailers to sell high sugar products more responsibly, that is, by excluding them from price promotions such as meal deals. Recent research not only indicates that higher sugar food and drink items are more likely to be more deeply promoted, but that price promotions increase the overall volume of food and drink taken home.
In addition to this, newly released data shows that certain lunchtime meal deal combinations can contain up to a staggering 30tsps of ‘free’ sugars – an adult’s maximum is 7tsps. From the meal deals surveyed, the combination containing the highest amount of sugar was from WHSmith which includes a sandwich plus the option of a Mountain Dew Citrus Blast 500ml drink and a bag of Skittles Crazy Sours, which contains an extraordinary 118.9g of sugar! This is more than four times an adult’s daily maximum in just a single lunch! If this was to be consumed over a working week, this would equate to a whopping 150 teaspoons of sugar, more than 1lb bag of sugar!
Whilst the findings reveal that low sugar meal deal options are possible, with some combinations containing less than one teaspoon of sugar, the majority of retailers are failing to promote healthy choices to their consumers. Studies show that 72% of meal deal drinks sold at Morrisons are high in sugar per serving compared to 38% at M&S, who offer the lowest percentage of high sugar drinks on the market.
It must however be said that if retailers feel so strongly towards supporting consumers in making healthier choices, as well as excluding high sugar drinks from meal deals, they should consider excluding other high sugar, high salt and high saturated fat products as options of meal deals and instead, increase the range of healthier choices.
Sugar can be part of a healthy, balanced diet (for example, sweet treats are often part of special celebratory occasions) if consumed occasionally, rather than as part of our daily meals, snacks and drinks.
Maybe you’re wanting to get involved but you’re not sure where to start? Here are our top tips to help you reduce your sugar intake and choose healthier food options…
Top tips for choosing healthier meal deals:
- Use the FoodSwitch UK app to find healthier choices. Simply scan the barcode of your regular brand to get the traffic light coded nutrition information and see a list of possible healthier alternatives.
- Choose products that display this traffic light coded nutritional information on the front packet with amber or green for sugar, salt and saturated fat.
- Choose fruit or vegetables for the snack option rather than the sweetened yoghurts or sugar packed cereal bars.
- Choose water or sugar-free drinks or smaller portions of fruit juice or smoothie for the drink option.
Top tips for reducing your sugar intake:
- Remove those tempting triggers by keeping sugar, syrup and honey away from the breakfast table – out of sight, out of mind!
- Reduce the amount of sugar added to things you eat and drink regularly like cereal, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and reduce down from there.
- Sweeten cereal or oatmeal with fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruits (raisins, cranberries or apricots) instead of added sugar.
- Swap flavoured, sweetened yoghurts for plain yoghurts and add fresh fruit or dried fruit.
- When baking your favourite sweet treats, experiment! Cut the sugar in your recipe by one third to one-half. If the sugar is reduced gradually, you’re unlikely to notice the difference.
- Enhance the flavour of foods with herbs and spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Choose sugar-free or low calorie drinks.
- Read the food label to discover how much ‘free’ sugars are found in many everyday products (such as salad dressings, ketchup and other sauces). Be aware that the reference intakes displayed on the front of food and drinks packets refer to Total Sugars, which also includes naturally occurring sugars found in milk and fruit.
- Some food and drink producers make it easier for us to make a healthier choice, by colour coding their nutrition information on the front of the packet – for example, when it comes to food, 5g of sugar per 100g or less is considered a low sugar product, and therefore represented as green on the label, 22.5g of sugar or more is considered a ‘high’ sugar product and is represented as red and anything in between is amber.