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Sugar Awareness Week: what actions can we all take?

This week is Sugar Awareness Week. Our guest explains how the Action on Sugar campaign is raising health concerns throughout the week.

This is a guest article by Dr Kawther Hashem. All views expressed are Kawther’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Action on Sugar is part of UK-based health focused registered charity Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (founded in 1996), dedicated to reducing dietary salt, sugar and calorie consumption to improve the health of populations in the UK and worldwide. 

During Sugar Awareness Week this year, we’re raising awareness of the health impacts of consuming excess sugar (and calories).

Excess sugar intake is linked to tooth decay, increases risk of weight gain, which can mean a higher likelihood of living with overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. We as a population, from young children to older people, are exceeding our daily maximum sugar intakes, by twice or even three times.

The aim of the week is to get people talking about the importance of reducing sugar, and to encourage individuals, food and drink companies and the government to take action so we can all access and enjoy healthier food.

Are children snacking excessively?

This year we are focusing on snacks and how they contribute to daily sugar intake. From a young age, children are getting used to the sweet taste of snack foods, which influences their health in the future.

Sugary snack foods are always put in the spotlight wherever we go, using colourful packaging, cartoons, misleading and distracting claims, advertising, price promotions, sports sponsorships and optimal placement in supermarkets at store entrances, checkouts and end-of-aisle.

These are all areas the government can act on, to encourage food and drink companies to do the right thing, help us and our children eat and nourish our bodies better. Action on Sugar is strongly advocating for this to happen, but until then, the food and drink industry should be doing more to reduce sugar and to provide healthier options.

As for individuals there is plenty we can do too. We can challenge companies and government to take purposeful action to facilitate a healthier food and drink environment.

Health Halo Claims

We would encourage patients to scrutinise products they regularly buy, checking the sugar levels and ignoring health halo claims such as ‘no added sugar’, ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘naturally occurring sugars’ and other claims.

Sugars come in many clever disguises, using ingredient names that essentially mean the product contains added sugar or free sugars (e.g. those sugars released by processing fruit).

The easiest way to know if a product contains too much sugar is to choose products with front of pack colour-coded labelling. The red, amber and green can help you, at a glance, review the total sugar content. If a food or drink is red or even amber for sugars, then double check the ingredients and try to stick to a daily intake of 19g for young children, and 30g for those over 11 years old.

Will you join us in taking action on sugar? What do you think can be done to encourage people to take up a healthier food and drink diet?

This was a guest article by Dr Kawther Hashem. All views expressed were Kawther’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

We can try and educate people about not eating too much sugar but not everyone is going to be receptive and this approach is so common it may be ignored.

My approach is to encourage people be wary of manufactured foods.

It’s not difficult to peel and eat an orange or even two a day, but no-one will sit down and eat a bag of them. On the other hand, it’s very easy to consume a lot of sugar as fruit juice because it is so easy to drink. Do we really need bottles and cartons of fruit juice?

In her introduction, Kawther wrote: “Sugars come in many clever disguises, using ingredient names that essentially mean the product contains added sugar or free sugars (e.g. those sugars released by processing fruit).” Absolutely, and unless you are a carbohydrate chemist, what contributes to your sugar intake might not be obvious. Perhaps that is the intention. Sugars make savoury food more palatable, so they are common in ready meals and even soups. Does anyone put sugar in homemade soup?

It’s important not to be obsessed about avoiding sugar but perhaps it’s not something to eat on a regular basis. I used to eat too many biscuits but now I make my own, which reminds me how much sugar and fat they contain and helps me not to eat the lot in a couple of days.

There is still a lot of controversy about whether or not sugar is an addictive substance, but like salt, you seem to need more to satisfy the taste buds until you come to rely on it, which is not quite the same as addiction.

More on this tomorrow, as an early night is needed more than sugar at the moment.

Alison says:
10 November 2021

It is well worth checking both the sugar content and the traffic light indicator, on foods you regularly eat, even for just a week. When I recently was told I was pre-diabetic, even though not overweight, and had to start staying within 30g a day, I quickly got several nasty shocks: a single dessert pot may be 50-70% of that 30g allowance, and more disconcertingly a fruit yoghourt (such a healthy choice!!) may well contain over 10g, and my ‘savoury’ 200g can of baked beans gets a green light even though it contains 8.7g of sugar. Added sugar is everywhere. And when I weighed out the amount of sugar I took in four cups of tea/coffee a day it came to that 30g before I even considered starting to eat. A real wake-up call.

Continuing on the theme of my above comment regarding over consumption of sugar, BBC today news reports alarming amounts of sugar incorporated into infant food, which may lead to a child’s dependency on it from a very early age.

I recall a former summer family gathering when a young child was stung by a bee. First aid, in the form of antihistamine was applied along with a piece of chocolate to “make it better”. I found it extremely difficult to hold back a strong urge to tell the child it was the first aid that “made it better”and not the chocolate, which only served to stop the screaming.

Some reports suggest sugar has a similar affect on the brains neurotransmitters as drugs, releasing dopamine as soon as anything sweet touches the tongues taste buds, as it’s receptors can differentiate between flavours. For more on this see the following: theguardian.com – Is it possible to tune your taste buds?

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate contained in toothpaste for example can change the taste of orange juice, and you should avoid artichokes which can also have a similar effect by leaving a sweet taste in the mouth, so should be avoided.

Apart from abstaining from the obvious high sugar containing carbohydrates as much as possible, free sugars including honey, fruit juice, glucose, corn syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose should be taken in moderation, not forgetting of course the sugar contained in alcoholic drinks.

As a chocoholic, I am not sure whether it’s the taste of chocolate, the sugar content or a combination of both that I find irresistible, so I seldom buy it, but then, only a very small bar as a treat now and then.

Howard Pritchard says:
11 November 2021

I am diabetic and to drive blood glucose down and in control I have a tight hold on sugar intake. One item that people miss is the sugar in milk which you can easily consume a lot of unwittingly in tea and coffee. So i swapped dairy milk (5%) to unsweetened soya milk (0%).

Howard, as a diabetic (are you type 1 or 2?} you are probably already aware that all mammal milk contains lactose, but babies natural system will produce sufficient lactase to break it down into sugar. As one gets older, the body produces less lactase but the amount of hidden (or unhidden) sugar contained in the food we eat is often increased.

I have much trouble reading the very small print of the ingredient sugar content on food packaging without resorting to my reading specs. Traffic light symbols can help, but if I was unfortunate enough to suffer from diabetes, I am sure I would feel happier reading all the sugar content displayed in the small print.

Soya milk I presume is fortified to ensure adequate supply of calcium.

I remember reading years back that sugar is 6 times more addictive that cocaine – that really rang alarm bells with me and since then I made a conscious effort to control my sugar intake. Touch wood I’m the only one in my family that’s not diabetic.

Beryl – Although adults produce less of the enzyme lactase (beta-galactosidase), which is needed to break down milk sugar (lactose) to glucose and galactose, than babies, many of us can cope fine with modest amounts of milk in our diet. That means that diabetics (both Type 1 and 2) should be careful about how much they consume, as Howard has pointed out.

I don’t think I misunderstood anything Howard pointed out
Wavechange, and I am confident he has been well briefed in how to manage his diabetes I was merely attempting to alert people to the consequences of consuming too much sugar and type 2 diabetes in later years when lactase supply
tends to wane.

The fact that Howard and other diabetics who have to be careful about drinking milk is that they do produce enough lactase to break down lactose and raise their blood glucose level.

Where does honey come onto the discussion, which is more natural. The sugar we eat only came about because somebody decided they could make pots of money by transporting slaves from Africa to harvest the stuff from America.