Sugar is a highly addictive poison, and, over the years, its use has been multiplied in food products and beverages to the detriment of the nation’s health. So it is welcome news to read that fruit snacks, yoghurts and smoothies are to be targeted by health officials under new guidelines being drawn up in the war on sugar. Scientists working with Public Health England (PHE) have ruled that certain snacks and drinks contain harmful free sugars which are being blamed for the national obesity crisis. Experts say adults should restrict free sugar to no more than 5 per cent of their total calorie intake. Children should eat far less.
Free sugars are defined as those that have been refined, as opposed as those which are naturally present. But there has been debate whether sugar naturally occurring in fruit, smoothies and bars should be treated as refined sugar. Now the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) says in many cases those products do include free sugars, as the fruit is processed. It means anyone wanting to stay within official guidelines may have to consume fewer smoothies and supposedly healthy fruit-based snacks.
The decision will bolster PHE’s warning on free sugars. The new definition will be used in calculating the public’s free sugar intake through the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. It is more stringent than previous guidelines. Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said: ‘SACN advised some changes to the draft definition and we’ll use its advice to finalise the definition in the coming weeks.’
The change to include more products is being welcomed by campaigners but they also complained the system is so complex it is hard for consumers to know exactly what contains free sugars and how much. Jenifer Rosborough, nutritionist at Action on Sugar which campaigns for a reduction in sugary food, said: ‘There is already so much confusion around in fruit juice and smoothies as well as honey and other syrups – meaning that it’s really easy to over-consume free sugars. As a population we are consuming 2 to 3 times what’s recommended.’
The scientific panel considered what was naturally present in fruit and vegetable purees, juices, smoothies and other similar products should be treated as free sugars where the cellular structure of the fruit or vegetable has been broken down, but it also concluded sugar naturally present in stewed, canned and dried fruit and vegetables should be excluded from the definition of free sugars.
That may add to confusion because fruit bars made from dried fruit will not be considered to contain free sugars, while fruit bars made from fresh fruit will. Does all this confusion, which seems more complicated than ever, help us?
Well, your guess is as good as mine. However, all this does not detract from the fact that sugar is a dangerous commodity that should be consumed with extra vigilance. At least we have been warned…