Making Sense Of Sugar
 

Food Labels and Food Packaging

Today all manufacturers need to provide nutritional information on all pre-packaged foods and drinks found in the UK. You’ll find this information on the food label either on the front or back of pack, to help you understand the nutrient and calorie count.

When it comes to sugars in particular, below you’ll find lots of useful information about where you can find out just how much sugars are in a product by taking a closer look at the different food labels.

We often get asked as well about ‘added sugars’ which are those sugars used during manufacturing, and whether it’s possible to figure out how much is in our food. Unfortunately you won’t be able to find added sugars listed separately on a food label – it’s not possible for a manufacturer to accurately analyse the amount of added sugars in a food or drink product.

The key reason for this is that you may find that during the manufacturing process that the sugars are converted into another ingredient. To give you an example, when you make beer the sugars (glucose and maltose) from the malt are fermented to make alcohol which isn’t actually a sugar. What you may find as well, is that the sugars combine with other ingredients to enhance the flavour and/or colour of a product making it very difficult to determine where the sugars come from (i.e. have they been added? Do they occur naturally? Or have they been combined in the cooking process?).

Ingredients List

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The first place you’ll be able to find out whether a product contains sugars is in the ingredients list. All the ingredients that have been used to make the product will be shown in order of weight. If you see ‘sugar’ listed then it is the same type of sugar that you find in your kitchen cupboard (sucrose). There may also be other ingredients that contain sugars such as fruit, fruit juice or other sugar ingredients e.g. glucose, fructose, maltose.

Nutritional Information

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The second place you’ll be able to find out about sugars is on the nutritional information panel. This can be found typically on the back (or side) of pack and will list the major nutrients in a product in a particular order, including energy (both in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal), known as calories), and the amounts of fat, saturated fat (known as saturates), carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. Sugars will be listed as carbohydrates (which usually include both starches and sugars) and will use the phrase “of which sugars” to show how much sugars there are per 100g/100ml of product. (8) Some products also show the nutrient content in grams per portion as a percentage of the Reference Intakes (formerly known as Guideline Daily Amounts).

Front of pack labelling

The third place where you can find out about sugars is typically on the front-of-pack where you may find a Reference Intake label, a traffic-light label or a combination of the two.

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Reference Intake and Traffic Light Labels

Reference Intake labels show you the energy (both in kJ and kcals, but most of us know these as calories) per 100g or per 100ml, and the amounts of energy, fat, saturates, sugars and salt in a serving or a portion, along with the % Reference Intake of each nutrient and energy value.

A traffic-light label will contain the same information found in a Reference Intake label, but will have a traffic
light colour overlaid on top of the nutritional information to indicate at a glance whether the food or drink
contains a high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) amount of fat, saturates, sugars and salt.

For traffic-light labels you will find different limits for total sugars depending on whether the product is a food
or a drink and more importantly if the portion size is greater than 100g or 150ml. The same colour coding
system is used on products to show the level of salt, fat and saturated fats. (2) (9)

Foods (Total Sugars):

Red for portions above 100g – more than 27g/portion

If less than this figure you use the /100g figures

Green

Amber

Red

Foods
(Total Sugars):

< Less than 5g/100g > More than 5g/100g and
< less than 22.5g/100g
> More than 22.5g/100g

 

Drinks (Total Sugars):

Red for portions above 150ml – more than 13.5g/portion

If less than this figure you use the /100g figures

Green

Amber

Red

Drinks
(Total Sugars):

< Less than 2.5g/100ml > More than 2.5g/100ml and
< less than 11.25g/100ml
> More than 11.25g/100ml

 

SUGAR FACTS

  • There is no such thing as 'hidden sugar'. It must always be declared on the food label.
  • There has been a reduction of 16.1 per cent per capita in consumption of total sugars in the UK since 2001 (10).