Over the last few years it has been hard to escape discussion over free and added sugars, their role in public health, and what both governments and businesses should be doing in relation to it. When any topic is the subject of such discussion, it can become difficult to cut through the opinions and find the core of the issue. If you’re involved in a business that currently relies on added sugar as an ingredient though, it’s essential to have a clear picture of the situation. That’s why at Beloved we’ve put together a series of three articles helping to inform and guide your business. This is the first of the series and aims to outline where things stand today for food businesses still formulating their position on free and added sugars.
What do we mean by ‘added’ sugar?
Sometimes the number of terms used in relation to sugar can seem bewildering, so let us firstly clarify the term ‘added sugar’. Added sugars, also known as ‘free sugars’, are all sugars added to foods and those naturally present in fruit juices, syrups and honey. It does not include sugars naturally present in intact fruit and vegetables or milk and dairy products (definition by The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition – SACN).
According to Public Health England’s report on Sugar reduction: Achieving the 20%, free sugars are sugars added to foods during manufacture or are released during processes such as juicing or pureeing. Added sugars include all monosaccharides and disaccharides that have been added to foods. What does this list include?
- Sugar from cane and beet, brown sugar, crystalline sugar, molasses
- Sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose
- Lactose, Hydrolysed lactose, galactose (added as an ingredient)
- Treacle and syrups such as invert sugar syrup, malt syrup, fruit syrup, rice malt syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose-fructose syrup
- Sugars in nectars such as coconut blossom nectar, date nectar, agave nectar
- Sugars in unsweetened fruit juices, fruit juice concentrate
- Sugars in fruit purees and jam
By contrast, sugar naturally present in milk products, cereals, grains, nuts, seeds and fresh, dried and other processed fruits (other than purees and juices) are not considered ‘added sugar’. Hence, switching in whole or part to one of these sources would change your company’s added sugar profile.
Although purees and juices extracted from fruit containing natural sugars are considered added sugars, they are still refined sugar free and count as 100% natural when nothing else is added to them during the processing.
What are the health implications of using added or free sugars?
Much of the discussion around types of sugar has centred on health, so it seems sensible to start with this topic. Just what are the main points regarding the role of added sugar in public health though?
- Empty calories. Many forms of added sugar contain no vitamins or minerals, meaning that the calories consumed from it are often described as ‘empty’.
- Glycemic Index score. The glycemic index is a score reflecting how quickly sugar is absorbed digested, absorbed and metabolised by the body. The higher the score, the quicker the process and the greater and faster the rise in blood glucose levels – and, hence, insulin levels too. Glucose (which is used in many recipes and formulations) has a high GI. On the other hand, many natural alternatives, such as dates, have a low GI.
How is media coverage affecting attitudes towards refined sugar?
TV, radio, newspapers and, of course, websites are full of negative comment on the presence of refined sugar in people’s diets. One notable 2017 example for the UK market would be ITV’s primetime TV show Sugar Free Farm, which placed a group of celebrities on a sugar-free diet.
Around the same time, the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 (the UK’s most listened to radio programme) was experimenting with a sugar-free February and encouraging listeners to give it a try to.
This strong media presence for the subject of excluding refined sugar highlights the existing level of scrutiny being applied to its consumption. It also serves to further increase that scrutiny.
Influential celebrities like Davina McCall are also targeting consumers with books promoting sugar-free diets and lifestyles. As McCall herself has said, “Sugar-free to me means a diet free of refined sugar”.
As stated above, refined sugar free does not necessarily imply no added sugar. However, a lot of consumers and food influencers are indeed looking for refined sugar free options since they, unlike refined sugar, are not devoid of naturally present nutrients and therefore preserve some of the benefits of the original food product. To sum up, no added sugar implies refined sugar free, while refined sugar free does not necessarily mean no added sugar since juices and purees, which can also be 100% natural and unrefined, count as added sugars.
What is the Government saying around the issue of sugar?
Public Health England has a sugar reduction programme in place; the main aim of which is to reduce the levels of added sugar found in food. In conjunction with this, the report setting out the programme recommended an increase in the consumption of fibre from 18g a day to 30g a day.
In regards to date products, it’s worth bearing in mind that dates, chopped dates and date paste do not count as added sugar. They also all contain high fibre, making them ideal for adapting your recipes to suit the programme’s guidelines. Date syrup (also known as date juice concentrate) is classed as an added sugar but has the benefit of being sweeter than sugar, meaning that less of it needs to be used.
How are consumers responding to concerns over added sugar?
Understandably, with the increased media discussion of added sugar and government legislation around it, consumers are looking for information. For so long, public concern has been focused around ‘low fat’ but a quick look on Google Trends reveals that searches for ‘low fat’ have declined over the past 5 years, while searches for ‘low sugar’ have grown to now match them.
Over the same period, searches for the term ‘natural sugar’ have also increased. It’s another piece of evidence suggesting that people are looking to cut their refined sugar intake but are interested in replacing that with more natural alternatives.
Where consumer interest exists, it’s logical that the market will evolve to meet this growing demand. A firm business reason for considering whether your company should be looking to change the scale of its use of added sugar.
How are your competitors addressing their sugar profile?
The food industry is a competitive one so it’s important to keep an eye on what other businesses are doing and ensure that they’re not stealing a march on you. As a firm specialising in date products, we’re obviously familiar with market trends for that specific natural sugar source.
The graph below shows the number of UK product launches and re-launches using dates as an ingredient over a ten year period.
More broadly though, we can also tell you that over 9% of product launches in the UK between June 2015-June 2016 featured a sugar reduction claim. Such trend can also be noted on a global level – the graph below demonstrated the average annual growth of three different sugar related claims ‘no added sugar’, ‘sugar free’ and ‘low sugar’ between 2011 and 2015. while most of the products featured ‘no added sugar’ claim, ‘low sugar’ claim has been growing with the highest rate.
This move away from added sugar has led to a rise in the use of ingredients that consumers may see as ‘natural’ alternatives. The figures below demonstrate the scale of that growth.
What are the next steps for your business or organisation?
At a time when your competitors may already have looked to reduce their added sugar profile, it’s important to consider how your business can follow suit in the most effective way. Of course, if you’re going to make a change then you want to know that it’s the right change. That’s why it’s important to consider the media, public and government conversation that’s taking place. That’s why we’ve highlighted these factors in this piece:
- Dates, chopped dates and date paste are not considered added sugar.
- Date syrup is about 30% sweeter than sugar so requires about 30% less of it than sugar to be used in recipes.
- Date products contain fibre – which can help hit the targets laid down by Public Health England.
You can also read our next steps article, Added sugar alternatives – how can your business choose the right one? However, if we’ve already piqued your interest in Beloved and you’d like to find out more about how we can assist you with your needs, please contact us now.