Which? criticises complicated sugar labelling
sugar content in foods, placing the onus on manufacturers to put
full nutritional information on packs after a survey found high
levels in savoury foods that were not immediately apparent.
For an article entitled Sweet Little Mystery published today, Which? analysed supermarket purchases of a single professional and a young family in the UK. It found that sweet treats were not the only products with high sugar contents, but the carbohydrate was also turning up in savoury goods such as ready meals. It flagged up a number of offending products, including Asda sticky chilli chicken and Tesco crispy beef with sweet chilli sauce, both of which were found to contain more sugar gram for gram than vanilla ice cream. "Sugar is used as a preservative as well as a sweetener," granted the report authors, "but in these meals there is more than three times the amount per portion that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) says is high." The Food Standards Agency's traffic light labelling scheme rates foods containing more than 15g of sugar per 100g, or 18g if the portion size exceeds 100g, as being high in sugar. For drinks, the 'high sugar' limit is 7.5g per 100g. The problem, says Which?, is that sugar comes in many guises, and may be listed as one of many ingredients, such as corn sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, glucose syrup, high-fructose glucose syrup, honey, invert sugar, invert sugar syrup, isoglucose, levulose, maltose, molasses, sucrose and sucrose syrup - all of which add up to total sugar content. But except for products that claim to be 'low sugar', nutritional labelling with sugars split out from carbohydrates is voluntary. This makes it hard for consumers to see just how much sugar a product contains. While Which? editor Neil Fowler supports the traffic light labelling scheme, he said: "It's no wonder if people are baffled about the amount of sugar they're consuming. Although many companies do voluntarily label their products, not all do." "Manufacturers need to raise their game and put full nutrition information on the back of packs too." However Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said: "Which? is pushing at an open door." She said that while labelling regulations require companies to include a precise description of the sugars used in a product, such as fructose or glucose, manufacturers are already making it easier for people to see exactly the amount of sugar in their food by putting Guideline Daily Amount information on the front of their packs. "This clearly shows the total amount of sugar in the product - whether added or naturally present. Over 15 000 product lines now feature this GDA information." Leech drew attention to a recent FDF survey conducted at the end of 2006, which found £33billion worth of food and drinks products voluntarily had full nutrition information on the back of their packs. The UK government currently has no recommendations for the total amount of sugar people should consume each day. But Which? anticipates such maximum daily amounts may be on their way, however, since FSA's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has been asked to review the amount of sugar in the UK diet. Along with salt and saturated fat, sugar is also one of the ingredients that food manufacturers seeking to tap the health and wellness trend are reducing in their formulations. While low sugar, low salt, and low fat claims were once the preserve of the dieters' aisle, such claims are increasingly appearing on mainstream foods, and when taste is unimpaired the indications are that consumers are receptive.