Consumers could be unknowingly consuming more sugar than they intended, with more than 400 different names for added sugars found on packaged food labels.
According to Australian Dietary Guidelines, the average daily adult intake of sugar should be around 50g or 12 teaspoons per day.
However, the annual FoodSwitch: State of the Food Supply report found that unknown added sugars in some common foods resulted in Australians consuming almost double the recommended limit.
The George Institute’s nutritionist, Dr. Daisy Coyle said that this “silent added sugar” — up to 22 teaspoons a day — could be added to many people’s diets without them realizing it.
“Too much sugar contributes to rising rates of obesity and related chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes,” she said.
“But while most of us know it’s bad for us, reducing it is hard when you can’t tell how much is in the food you’re buying – right now, manufacturers only have to count total sugars on the nutritional information board of the grocery store list product. “
George Institute researchers used criteria from the government-developed Health Star Rating (HSR) system to rate more than 25,000 packaged foods and drinks sold in supermarkets across Australia.
It found that Woolworths own brands still have the highest overall health rating, with Coles and IGA sharing second place and ALDI scoring the least healthy.
dr Coyle calls for a new approach to food labeling to better inform consumers.
“One of the biggest obstacles to the success of the HSR program is that it remains voluntary – we found that only 41 percent of products have an HSR on the box – so there is no level playing field,” she said.
“And while the top 20 manufacturers have higher intake rates at about 70 percent, there is a wide disparity, with (for example) no products having an HSR on the pack, for over 96 percent for The Smith’s Snackfood Company products.”
dr Coyle said the voluntary HSR scheme has been in place since 2014 but compliance remains low at around 40 percent and this has deteriorated since last year’s report.
“Most importantly, IGA has chosen not to participate in the HSR program at all despite being one of Australia’s largest retailers,” she said.
The Australian government has set an industry benchmark of 70 per cent compliance by 2025, but this target remains voluntary for food manufacturers to meet.
However, a public consultation is expected to begin on proposed changes to food labels that would require companies to list added sugar levels on the nutrition information panel of their food products.
dr Coyle said while this was an important step in helping Australians make informed decisions, it would likely take some time before changes were adopted.
“Currently, shoppers can only determine how much added sugar is in a product by downloading the FoodSwitch app and scanning the barcode – this gives an estimate of the added sugar content and suggests healthier alternatives to switch to,” says she said.
dr Coyle said shoppers are encouraged to check the food labels on the products they buy to know what they’re putting in their mouths.
“Consumers deserve to know what is in the food they eat and we strongly support that the amount of added sugar in a product is clearly stated. This could also prompt the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar they pour into processed foods,” said Dr. coyle
“We don’t want buyers to have to wait years for this information, we want people to be able to make informed decisions now – small changes can really add up.”
Originally published as New report reveals more than 400 different names for sugar hiding on food labels