Our experts ask those niggling questions you've been itching to ask about sugar.
Q: “How much sugar should an average person consume? If I am trying to limit sugar, when should I put a product back on the shelf or look for an alternative product with less sugar?”
Natalie, via email
A: Accredited Practising dietitian Maddison Fox explains: “Most dietary guidelines are aimed at added sugars. It is recommended that less than 10% of your total daily energy intake should be consumed as added sugar (around 90g for the average 8700kJ diet).
Added sugars will be listed on the ingredients list in many forms, including white, raw or brown sugar; molasses; corn syrup or maltose. When looking at packaged foods, the ‘sugars’ column on the information panel includes all sugars, both natural (such as fructose and lactose) and added. You can then decipher whether the sugar in the product comes from a natural or added source by looking at the ingredients list. If it is added sugar, and high on the ingredients list, it’s probably best to put the product back.”
Q: “We all know ‘no fat’ and ‘low-fat’ claims don’t always mean a product is healthier, but I’m seeing more stating ‘no added sugar’, ‘60% less sugar’, etc. does this mean they’ve added artificial sweeteners, which I need to avoid?"
Pauline, via email
A: HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson replies: “to keep the taste of a reduced-sugar product, some manufacturers add artificial sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol, aspartame or xylitol. These are common in products that make ‘no sugar’ claims, and have all been declared safe for consumption by FSaNZ, although many people still like to avoid them. Ingredients are listed in order from most to least, so if an artificial sweetener (or other names for sugar, such as honey, syrup and sucrose) is in the top three, it’s probably a significant ingredient. According to the Food Standards Code, a ‘no added sugar’ claim means no sugar is added during processing, but there still may be natural sugars. Foods labelled ‘low sugar’ must have less than 5g per 100g. A claim such as ‘60% less sugar’ must state on the label what it is being compared to – it may still have a high level of added sugar, just less than its regular version.”
Q: “What’s the difference between white, raw and brown sugar? And which is healthier for me?”
Dennis, via email
A: Accredited practicing dietitian Hannah Gilbert answers: “white, raw and brown sugar are almost identical in chemical and nutrient composition. The only difference is the amount of sucrose. White sugar, from sugar cane or sugar beets, is 99.9-100% sucrose. Raw sugar, from dehydrated sugar cane juice, consists of sucrose (98-99%) and molasses (1-2%). Brown sugar also consists primarily of sucrose (95%) but contains a greater quantity of added molasses (5%). Nutritionally, there’s no significant difference between each of these sugars – and white, raw and brown sugar don’t contain any vitamins or minerals.”