There’s no point sugar-coating the facts; we’ve got an obesity crisis on our hands.
A quarter of all adults and a fifth of children are classified in this way, and it’s taking its toll on our nation’s health - an estimated one third of UK adults also have pre-diabetes.
Sugar is increasingly being blamed as one of the key culprits in this worrying epidemic, but it’s not just the frosty coating on a doughnut, or the number of teaspoons of the white stuff you add to your cups of tea that’s the problem (after all, the occasional treat is allowed!).
No, the biggest problem is hidden sugar, the - sometimes vast - quantities that’s been heaped into seemingly ‘non-treat’ foods and drinks to add flavour and sweetness.
Because despite efforts to label foods more clearly, it’s still not always possible to know (unless you’ve done a lot of homework beforehand) what’s sugar-laden and what’s not.
Thanks to the recent scary news reports, we do now know that a single can of fizzy drink contains seven to nine teaspoonfuls of sugar - b ut it’s not simply a case of cutting out the obvious suspects like these drinks, or chocolate and cakes from your diet. There’s a whole heap of hidden nasties lurking in our food these days.
“We are a country hooked on sugar, which has been added to our food to improve taste. Most people are wise to the products that contain high sugar levels, however, they may not be aware just how much they are consuming,” says Zoe Frith, in-house nutritionist for Prestige Purchasing.
“The biggest surprise for consumers is the hidden sugars in savoury products which can be unexpectedly high, such as canned goods, ready meals and sauces. We have got used to these sweetness levels in our food and, as such, are in a viscous circle - a sweet-tooth nation which would notice the difference if sugar levels were lowered.”
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is recommending that around 5% (down from 10%) of people’s daily energy can come from free sugars (those added to food or contained in fruit juices, honey, syrups and sweetened drinks). That would amount to 25 grams of sugar for women and 35 grams, or seven to eight teaspoonfuls, for men.
If you want to keep to this, it’s crucial you know exactly what sugar really goes into what, so the chairman of Action on Sugar, Professor Graham MacGregor, warns of some of the worst culprits you need to be wary of...
:: So focused are we on opting for the ‘healthy’ option that we don’t take the time to read the label properly. Yeo Valley O% Fat Vanilla Yoghurt contains the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar and the Muller Crunch Corner Strawberry Shortcake Yoghurt fares even worse with six teaspoons.
:: When time is of the essence, most of us will pop into a coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up but without realising what sugar high we’re setting ourselves up for. The Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream (and skimmed milk) contains the equivalent of 11 teaspoons of sugar, while the Pret A Manger Very Berry Latte (with milk) isn’t far behind with seven teaspoons.
:: You might think water is a much safer option - and you’d be right if you kept it plain and simple, but Glaceau Vitamin Water, Defence was found to have the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar, that’s the same as a packet of Butterkist Toffee Popcorn or a bowl of Kellogg’s Frosties (with semi-skimmed milk).
:: We might already associate quick and easy ready meals with dubious amounts of salt, but sugar is hiding in there too. For instance, Sharwood’s Sweet And Sour Chicken With Rice contains the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar (the same as Cadbury’s Hot Drinking Chocolate); Heinz Classic Tomato Soup has four; Ragu Tomato And Basil Pasta Sauce comes in at three and Pot Noodle Curry King Pot two.
Still think sugar is sweet? No, it all leaves rather a sour taste...