Stealthy sugars hiding in plain sight

Coconut nectar, fruit paste, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate.

While this list of ingredients might sound healthy, these are all “added sugar by stealth” according to the George Institute for Global Health.

The Institute has released its annual ‘State of the Food Supply Report’ for Australia. This year’s report includes a spotlight on added sugars.

There are two types of sugar found in food: intrinsic sugars naturally present in foods, like fruit; and added sugars, supplemented by manufacturers or consumers to enhance sweetness.

The World Health Organisation recommends an upper limit of 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

That’s because consuming too much added sugar can lead to poor health outcomes like weight gain and diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dental issues, the report says.

But the George Institute says food manufacturers in Australia are not currently required to display their added sugar content, instead disguising it under a host of names like fructose syrup, organic sugar, maltodextrin and tapioca syrup.

George Institute dietitian Dr Daisy Coyle says this added sugar by stealth means some Australians are consuming up to 22 teaspoons per day – nearly twice the recommended limit.

Two-thirds of packaged products contain added sugars according to the George Institute’s analysis of the top 20 food manufacturers (based on retail sales value). 

The institute’s FoodSwitch App provides an estimate of added sugar content, and suggests healthier alternatives, by scanning a product’s barcode.

Read more: Warnings over ultra-processed food

The report also ranks the “healthiness” of the top 20 manufacturers’ packaged foods against the Health Star Rating, the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the NOVA classification system for ultra processed food.

Simplot (owner of brands such as Birds Eye, John West and Leggo’s), frozen food company McCain and dairy company Lactalis ranked in the top three based on the average Health Star Rating of their products.

Meanwhile snack company Mondelez, Peters Ice Cream and Arnotts ranked at the bottom.

The report also highlights the lack of uptake of the Health Star Rating, with only 41% of products displaying the information. The voluntary rating is a government system intended as an easy way for consumers to compare the nutritional value of food.

The George Institute was founded in 1999 in Australia, with the support of the University of Sydney Medical School, to reduce the escalating burden of non-communicable diseases and injury around the world. In 2010 it established The George Centre for Healthcare Innovation in partnership with the University of Oxford.

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