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Are added sugars in core foods a problem?

How much sugar comes from core foods?

The George Institute for Global Health has published a study on the added sugar content of the 34,135 foods on their Australian FoodSwitch database. They identified 15,965 core and 18,350 discretionary products based on the classification in the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADGs). As added sugar is not listed on Nutrition Information Panels (NIPs), added sugar content was estimated from composition databases.

They found 87% of discretionary foods and 52% of core foods contained added sugar.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the core foods were significantly lower in sugar: the median added sugar contents were 3.3g/100g for core foods and 14.6g/100g for discretionary foods.

What core foods contain added sugar?

The reported average added sugar content across the core food groups is contained in the following table. Where you might expect to find most added sugar, such as in bakery and cereal products, dairy and beverages, core foods provide significantly less added sugar, making advice to limit discretionary foods effective in limiting added sugar intake.

Food group

Median added sugar content (g/100g)

 

CORE

DISCRETIONARY

Bread and bakery products

1

17

Cereal and grain products

3

14

Convenience foods

1

1

*Dairy

4

15

Seafood

2

N/A

Meat and alternatives

1

1

Fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes

8

52

Non-alcoholic beverages

3

10

Sauces, dressing and spreads

2

5

*NOTE the ABS classifies all milk drinks as core, so these discretionary products are likely to be cream or ice-cream based

Why do core foods contain added sugar?

Sugar is added to core foods mostly for texture and flavour, although it can play other technical roles as well, such as a preservative in fruit products, sauces and dressings. In the case of high fibre cereals, they would be less palatable without the addition of sugar. Low/no added sugar cereals on the market often attract the addition of sweeteners such as sugar, honey or artificial sweeteners by the consumer.

How much sugar comes from breakfast cereals in the Australian diet?

A report from the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF) contains a new analysis of the Australian Health Survey (AHS) data on added sugars from these core foods. The analysis reveals:

  • Australian adults who ate breakfast cereal had the lowest daily intakes of both added sugars and free sugars compared to those who ate other breakfasts or skipped breakfast.
  • For children, there was no difference in daily intakes of added sugars or free sugars whether they ate cereal, other breakfast foods or skipped breakfast
  • Overall, breakfast cereals accounted for about 4g of added sugars and free sugars in the diets of adults and children who ate them
  • Both added sugars and free sugars in breakfast cereals contributed very little (less than 1%) to the daily energy intakes of adults and children that ate breakfast cereals.

(read a previous article on this topic here)

Sugars in the Health Star Rating (HSR)

The HSR front of pack labelling system currently uses total sugars rather than added sugars content in its algorithm. While the HSR system broadly aligns with the ADGs and mostly distinguishes well between core and discretionary foods (see previous article on this topic here), The George Institute research suggests using added sugars data would enhance this alignment. They tested the ability of the HSR to discriminate between core and discretionary foods using the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC), derived from logistic regression models. They found the AUC increased from 0.825 to 0.843 when total sugar was changed to added sugar using the current algorithm.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) in consultation with the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) are currently preparing to investigate labelling approaches for sugars.

NEXT: Diet during conception and pregnancy  

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