Thursday 27 October 2016

Even the health-conscious eat too much 'hidden' sugar

'Low fat' products often sweetened

Published 16/01/2016 | 02:30

'The most unlikely savoury foods can contain several spoons of added sugar' Photo: Despositphotos
'The most unlikely savoury foods can contain several spoons of added sugar' Photo: Despositphotos
How hidden sugars can add up

An apparently healthy diet can conceal three times the amount of sugar a person should ideally consume each day - because so much is now hidden in everyday foods.

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The most unlikely savoury foods can contain several spoons of added sugar, while so-called "low fat" versions of products are often sweetened to make them more palatable.

A typical daily menu of a consumer who is health conscious can still leave them eating nearly 16 spoons of sugar, according to an analysis by the Irish Independent.

This amount of sugar can make up around 14pc of the daily calorie consumption of a sedentary woman - nearly three times the ideal 5pc limit set by the World Health Organisation.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of Human Health and Nutrition in Safefood, who compiled a conservative day's menu, pointed out it did not include any fizzy drinks or chocolate bars.

"If you were having these meals in a day, you would think you were being very good," she pointed out.

"But as can be seen, it is very easy for the hidden sugars to add up."

She added: "We are not suggesting people don't eat, but they should be aware of how sugar can creep up when you have anything processed."

Our high sugar intake has been linked to rising levels of overweight and obesity which are contributing to heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.

She said a fruit yogurt can contain around three spoons of sugar. A dinner of spaghetti bolognese has sauces with sugar.

Some breakfast cereals, while nutritious, also have sugars lurking in their ingredients.

The culprits are sugars added to food and drink known as "free sugars".

We do not need to avoid sugars which occur naturally in foods such as fresh fruit and milk.

Dr Foley-Nolan pointed out that most people "habitually buy the same foods" so one way of cutting down was to look for alternatives.

"Rather than tackling everything at once, try to make one change at a time."

For instance, examine three types of yogurt, check the labels and compare them. Choose one that is tasty and has the least amount of sugar.

Instead of buying a fruit yogurt, look for a plain version and add fruit. "Look around at some of the cereals. Are there cereals that will be acceptable to the household and go for one with the lowest sugar."

Instead of having a glass of orange juice in the morning, have a piece of fruit such as an orange or mandarin.

Obesity expert Prof Donal O'Shea has also criticised food labels which can leave consumers confused about levels of sugar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "We're working with the food industry to slowly reduce the amount of sugar, fat and salt in food. By reducing in stages, rather than doing it overnight, consumers won't notice any difference and the food will taste just as good.

"This is known as reformulation, and along with reducing portion sizes, it's one of the most effective ways to reduce obesity.

"I met the industry last month and I'll be making a further announcement on this topic in a few weeks' time. In the meantime, I am calling on the industry to commit to binding targets to reduce added sugar and salt. But we should remember that this is a free country and there's only so much that you can regulate for.

"Everyone should be free to make their own decisions about the food they eat, but they also need to understand the consequences of the decisions."

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Irish Independent

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