Dispel consumer myths around added sugars, IGD

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers do not understand the role of sugars in the diet, according to a new report from IGD that suggests food businesses can improve the information they provide to aid understanding.

Reducing added sugar is part of a major drive towards offering healthier food and beverage products, and the main public health messages revolve around managing energy intake and dental health. However as well as providing energy and carbohydrate, they also perform technological functions in foods, such as texture, colour, acting as a preservative and improving palatability.

The new report from the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), called Sugars: Improving information and messages to consumers,​ is intended to help food manufacturers clarify messages to consumers about the role of sugars in the diet, and to use appropriate terms for describing sugars on food and beverage products.

IGD conducted qualitative research around consumer understanding of sugars, and terms associated with sugars and sugar processing. They found that there was perception that natural sugars – from foods such as fruit, vegetables, dairy products and cereals – are somehow different from added sugars; in fact “they are no different in terms of their nutritional value, their effect on health, and the way they are utilised by the body,”​ says the report.

It added that this may be exacerbated “by poor definition and understanding of the term ‘added sugar’”.

People are often advised to consume foods with natural sugars over ones with added sugar, however, as they are usually accompanied by beneficial nutrients, such as fibre in fruit.

In addition, the researchers found people tended to think, incorrectly, that brown sugar and honey are better for them than white sugar.

The report contains a number of general and specific messages about sugars in the diet, including the role of sugars in a healthy balanced diet, nutritional value, sources of sugars, sugars and weight management, sugars and dental health.

It also gives some messages that the food industry may find useful when developing products or resources:

  • Brown colours and flavours come from raw sugar or are added back
  • Sugar is naturally white, it is not bleached
  • Sugars provide 4 calories per gram, less than half the calories of fat. The GDA for sugars is 90g
  • Sugar does not cause diabetes and can be eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet (according to current scientific evidence)
  • Sugars do not cause behavioural problems in children (according to current scientific evidence)

The report was compiled with input from IGD’s Industry Nutrition Strategy Group, made up of executives from Cereal Partners UK, British Sugar, Coca-Cola, Innocent, Kellogg Europe, Marks & Spencer, the British Dietetic Association, the Dairy Council, United Biscuits Waitrose, and independent expert Dr Alison Lennox.

Joanne Denney-Finch, IGD chief executive, said: “Sugars play an important role in what we eat, but there is much consumer confusion about their place in a healthy balanced diet. And it is important to help people understand the different sources of sugars in their diet, so they get the balance right.

“IGD analysis has highlighted the main areas of public uncertainty. Building on IGD research, key messages have been identified to help consumers improve their knowledge of sugars and dispel misconceptions.

“By adopting the recommendations in the sugars report, food businesses can give consumers the information they need to make healthier choices.”

The full report can be downloaded for free from www.igd.com/sugars

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