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The amount of hidden sugar in your diet might shock you

Added sugar in our diet is a very recent phenomenon and only occurred when sugar, obtained from sugar cane, beet and corn, became very cheap to produce. It’s a completely unnecessary part of our calorie…

It’s not just fruit lurking beneath. Schwäbin

Added sugar in our diet is a very recent phenomenon and only occurred when sugar, obtained from sugar cane, beet and corn, became very cheap to produce. It’s a completely unnecessary part of our calorie intake: it has no nutritional value, gives no feeling of fullness and is acknowledged to be a major factor in causing obesity and diabetes both in the UK and worldwide.

The food industry is adding more and more sugar to food, which consumers are largely unaware of, as it is mostly hidden.

While it may not be surprising that a can of Coca Cola has a staggering nine teaspoons of sugar (35g), similar amounts can be found in the most unlikely of foods, including flavoured water (Volvic Touch of Fruit Lemon/Lime 27.5g per 500ml), yogurts (Yeo Valley Family Farm 0% Fat Vanilla Yogurt 20.9g per 150g pot), canned soup (Heinz Classic Tomato Soup 14.9g per 300g portion), ready meals (Pot Noodle Curry King Pot, 7.6g per portion) and even bread (Hovis Soft White Bread, 1.4g in one medium-sized slice).

You might opt for 0% fat in your yoghurt but what if it also comes with five teaspoons of sugar? Or how about these:

Not just the usual suspects Action on Sugar

It’s clear this sugar plays a part in soaring levels of obesity and diabetes. To this end, leading health experts from across the globe have united to tackle – and to unmask hidden sugar so consumers can make informed decisions about what they eat and drink.

It follows a similar model to salt reduction pioneered by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), which has been successful in compelling companies and manufacturers to add less salt to products over a period of time by setting targets for the food industry and mobilising public information.

Salt content in food products in the supermarkets have now been reduced by 20-40% and as a result, salt intake has fallen in the UK by 15% (between 2001-2011), the lowest known figure of any developed country. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), this will have reduced stroke and heart attack deaths by a minimum of 9,000 per year, with a saving in health care costs of at least £1.5bn a year.

A similar programme of gradually reducing the amount of added sugar in food and drink products, with no substitution in food, could prove to be an equally effective and practical way of reducing added sugar in the UK diet. As with salt, a 20-30% reduction in sugar added to food and soft drinks could be achieved over the course of five years, and result in a reduced calorie intake of approximately 100kcal a day, going some way to help reverse obesity rates.

There are several parallels between salt and sugar. Like salt, most of the sugar we consume is hidden in processed food and soft drinks. There are also specific taste receptors for sugar, which if sugar intake is gradually reduced become more sensitive. So over time we don’t notice that sugar levels have gone down.

If we can persuade the Department of Health that this programme is very likely to help considerably with the obesity epidemic, and in particular to reduce childhood obesity, while also reducing the incidence of dental disease, and (very likely) the number of people developing Type 2 diabetes, it should have a good chance of success.

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5 Comments sorted by

  1. Chris Colenso-Dunne

    logged in via email

    I'm not sure how helpful it is for nutritionists and others to use the term 'sugar' and 'salt' when addressing a lay audience. I've been participating in this debate for almost four decades, and it's always depressing how little the general public seems to know about even elementary biochemistry. In my view, while 'sugar' or 'table sugar', 'salt' or 'table salt' are useful starting points and helpful signposts, at some point nutritionists and others must try to be more precise, even when addressing…

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  2. John Doyle


    I first came upon this realization when I first saw"The Bitter Truth' by Robert Lustig.
    I didn't lose any weight when I stopped eating sugar until I combined it with a high protein low carb diet, basically a big breakfast of steak and eggs etc.
    Then I lost 20% of my weight in 18 months, BMI abt 23 today.
    Here is an excellent video about such a diet:
    We are on the cusp now of a realization that sugar and high carbs are not an answer to metabolic syndrome, but a trigger.
    No matter how hard industry tries to subvert the message, it will prevail.
    The sooner the better.

  3. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    Thanx Chris Colenso-Dunne: you anticipated my first query precisely. My second lay query: would there be any dietary disadvantage in prohibiting sweeteners being added to any processed food? I understand that such a position is unlikely and perhaps even undesirable (let's not make everyone miserable by banning lollies), but I would like to start by understanding the dietary advice.

    Incidentally, I was very surprised to read, if I have understood correctly, that a Starbucks caramel frappuccino with skimmed milk and whipped cream has a third more sucrose than a Mars bar - my benchmark of the ultimate sugar hit (yum!).

  4. David R Amies


    Were sugar and salt to be discovered tomorrow, it is highly unlikely that they would pass tests of public safety and would be regarded as too toxic for widespread use!

  5. Phil Thompson


    Sugar consumption is declining slowly, obesity is about constant, at least recently in the UK (10-15 years). I'm following the example of the article by not showing any actual data, but you can trust me - I'm an engineer.

    I don't know how "hidden" sugar is, seems to me it's on the ingredients list and nutritional data panel in plain view.

    It's true that sugar, unlike salt, is not essential to life but the same can be said of all other carbohydrates. Sugar is rather good at preserving, see jams…

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