‘Hidden’ sugar can be pitfall for consumers

Most Australian shoppers say they know consuming too much sugar is unhealthy.


(First:) “I know it’s a problem, I know it’s in a lot of processed foods and so on, but I don’t buy them anyway.”

(Second:) “Just because of some health concerns, I’ve now had to start paying attention to sugar, but I must admit, previously, it never crossed my mind.”

(Third:) “I try to avoid buying things with sugar on the menu.”

But Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition explains checking the label is not always enough.

“One of the problems for a consumer is they don’t know how much added sugar is in their food compared to the naturally occurring sugar, because that’s not clear on the label. There are 43 different names for sugar that are used on the ingredient list, and that makes it very confusing to know what proportion of your food is actually sugar.”

Research shows Australians are consuming an average of 60 grams of added sugar a day, equating to 14 teaspoons.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders consume even more, 18 teaspoons.

And some teenagers are consuming 38 teaspoons daily.

Katinka Day, from the consumer group CHOICE, says that is equivalent to the sugar in four cans of Coca-Cola.

“Australians are over-consuming added sugar, especially children and teenagers. Added sugar is hidden in everyday products. So it’s not the products that you just think of as unhealthy. It’s breakfast cereals, it’s yoghurts, it’s savoury foods.”

CHOICE has named several culprits in a new report on added sugars.

The biggest name is Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, where one 40-gram serving contains nearly three teaspoons of hidden sugar.

Other items mentioned include Healthy Choice apricot chicken and Woolworths Select chow mein.

Some surprise inclusions are Gippsland raspberry and coconut yoghurt, as well as Golden Day apricot bites.

The Grattan Health Institute’s Dr Stephen Duckett says the report shows added sugar is disguised, not up-front.

“It’s all very well to say to people, ‘You’ve got to actually moderate your food intake, you’ve got to moderate your sugar intake.’ But, if they think that something doesn’t have much sugar in it and it turns out to have more, that’s really bad.”

Katinka Day says, if consumers make the right changes, they could avoid 38 kilograms of unnecessary sugar a year.

But, first, she says, labels need to be more transparent.

“So we’re asking for the government to catch up with the rest of the world and label added sugars clearly on food products. We need labels that allow consumers to make informed choices.”

State, territory and federal food ministers will consider that recommendation when they meet on Friday at the Forum of Food Regulation.