By Steph du Plooy and James Hand

Cutting down on sugar is hard. It’s added to many of the everyday products we buy and sometimes called by a different name. If you’re cutting down we’re going to help you find out:

  • What to look out for
  • Where to look for it
  • What’s the recommended amount

We hope it helps you achieve your goal. If you want to save time just download Giki’s app, scan a barcode, and look out for the Healthier Option badge. It’ll tell you how much sugar is in the product in your hand.

What to look for – Sugar and all things “ose”

The NHS guidance is pretty clear, “Eating too much sugar can make you gain weight and can also cause tooth decay”. Worse still there’s some scientific evidence that it could even be addictive. So whether it’s TV programmes like Britain’s Fat Fight, or government intervention with the recently introduced sugar tax on soft drinks, sugar is never far from the spotlight.

However, whilst many of us would understandably think that looking out for “sugar” is enough, unfortunately it’s not. There are many different types of sugars, with various names depending on their chemical structure. The good news is that sugar found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains is not the type of sugar that the NHS recommends you cut back on.

Rather it’s “free sugars”, which don’t occur naturally in food or drink but which help to give food taste, texture and longer life on the shelf. In short it’s the sugar that’s added to your products.

However, sometimes this sugar is difficult to spot in the ingredients list as there are a surprising number of guises it comes under. Sugars may appear as:

  • Sugar, inverts sugar and other similar terms: luckily the key’s in the name
  • Glucose: Simplest form of sugar that can be used by the body
  • Fructose: Simplest form of sugar that occurs naturally in fruit
  • Sucrose: Commonly known as table sugar it occurs naturally in sugar cane or beets
  • Maltose: Made from starch
  • Dextrose: a form of glucose
  • High Fructose corn syrup: Made from corn starch where half of the glucose has been converted into fructose. Also maple and agave syrups as well as honey.

So if you look out for sugar, syrups and anything ending with an “ose” you’re on the right track. However, you may also want to look out for Maltodextrin which is a hydrolysed starch that acts similar to sugar, adds texture and sweetness to products and Molasses which is a black treacle that comes from refining sugar.

Where to look

Once you start looking for it, you may be surprised at how much sugar is in foods in all sorts of supermarket products. It’s no surprise to find it in cakes, chocolate, sweets, biscuits, sugary fizzy drinks and other treats. However, you also need to keep an eye on sauces, some tinned foods, mayonnaise, mustard, bread and jars of sauce to name a few.

One quirk that can cause confusion is that free sugar includes sources which feel more “natural” such as honey, fruit juice and jam. Whilst fruit juice sugar is naturally occurring during the juicing process it is separated from the fruit fibre and is therefore considered ‘free sugar’. Sounds as if it has escaped.

This checklist for where to look is simple: the back of pack ingredient list. Avoid being drawn in by claims of no added sugar (maltodextrin would not count) and read the ingredients list looking for sugar , syrups and the “ose”.

What’s the recommended amount?

According to the NHS added sugar shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy you get from food and drink each day. That’s about 30g or 6 sugar cubes for adults.

Similarly, the WHO guideline recommends a daily intake of less than 10% of their total energy intake but also states that  a further reduction to below 5% would provide additional health benefits.

Sounds simple but have you tried to add up all your sugars for one day? Not only can it be very complicated, you may find you’ve had your quota before lunchtime!

Here are a few easy ways to blow through the target:

  • A small chocolate bar and a sugary drink (or just the drink if it’s a 500ml bottle)
  • A muffin or piece of cake
  • Some kids sweets and a small ice cream
  • A glass of fruit juice and some flavoured low fat yoghurt

And that’s assuming no more added sugar for the rest of the day. Good luck and please do share any products you find which are surprisingly high (or low!) in sugar? Scan them with Giki and click on share.

Using the traffic lights

As well as keeping an eye out for different sugars and cutting back where you see it there’s also some help from the government traffic light labelling scheme. This is intended to flag up packaged foods that are high in sugar with a “red” label. The simplest approach is to try and limit foods that score “red” on sugar to one a day as a good start.

The problem is that it’s a voluntary labelling scheme and here’s where Giki can help. We calculate the traffic lights for you for all package food and drink so you can see, quickly, the ones in the red category. No more waiting for the companies to put it on the pack.

What to do next?

Giki can help you avoid products high in sugar. Simply download the app, scan the barcode of a supermarket product and look out for the Health Badge. This will only be awarded if products are not high in sugar, salt and fats. The health badge is based on all the traffic light labels and will be helpful when products do not have any front of pack information. We’ll also tell you the traffic light colour for each ingredient.