The Sunday Times revealed this week that many best-selling supermarket meals and snacks contain more sugar than a can of Coca-Cola.
Even worse these items are described as “natural“. For example Kellogg’s natural wheat bran cereal contains 20g per 100g and their Honey Hoops 29g per 100g.
Among other products with high sugar content are ready meals, sauces, soups, and low-fat yoghurts, all of which had sugar levels considered high under NHS guidelines in which anything with less than 5g per 100g is considered low; and anything with over 15g per 100g high.(Note that low fat doesn’t mean low sugar).
Obesity campaigners blame the government for allowing the food and drinks industry to lace its products with sugar described as “wasted calories with no nutritional content“.
Other examples include Tesco’s 250g pack of oriental crispy chilli beef which contains 49g of sugar – or half the recommended daily limit. A 500g jar of Uncle Ben’s oriental lemon chicken sauce with ginger contains more sugar than 2.5 Mars bars (well it is made by Mars). And if you thought cranberry juice was healthy, a litre of Ocean Spray contains almost 12% sugar (119g), more than a 330ml can of Coca-Cola (35g).
Producers say that since they reduced salt food can have an acidic taste so they counter it by putting in sugar. Other say they use sugar as a preservative.
Now the government is planning to introduce a new warning scheme for shoppers so they can tell which products are high in sugar or salt
At present a traffic light system is used by Sainsbury’s and Asda but Tesco and Morrisons use labelling relating to the proportion of sugar, salt and fat in each product compared to recommended guidelines.
Under the new scheme products will have red lights if they have more than 17.5g of fat per 100g, more than 5g per 100g of saturated fat, more than 22.5g per 100g of sugar, and more than1.5g of salt per 100g.
Sounds like good news for consumers. Unfortunately the government is not prepared to legislate and the scheme is voluntary. No doubt supermarkets will, as usual, be finding ways round it.
Nutritionists believe that the industry will only act if there is a nation-wide agreement and Which?, the consumer group says, “with a quarter of the UK population obese it’s vitally important that people know what’s in their food” and “Consumers are choosing low-fat and light options believing them to be healthier but our research has found that in many cases they are not living up to their healthy image”.