Sugar content on labels is confusing, says Which?Some savoury foods contain more than ice cream

05 April 2007

Sugar can be found in all kinds of foods but it's not always easy to tell how much from the labelling, according to new research by Which?

Which? found that savoury meals such as Asda sticky chilli chicken and Tesco crispy beef with sweet chilli sauce contain more sugar per gram than vanilla ice cream. The meals contain more than three times the amount per portion than the Food Standards Agency (FSA) says is high.

We also found high levels of sugar in other products: Weight Watchers oat digestive biscuits (a low-fat food) contain 20.5g of sugar per 100g – almost 4 per cent more than McVitie’s digestives - while Kellogg’s crunchy nut cornflakes contain 35g of sugar per 100g.

Different forms of  sugar

Checking for sugar on food labels can be confusing, however. It comes in many different forms: corn sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, glucose syrup, high-fructose glucose syrup, honey, invert sugar, invert sugar syrup, isoglucose, levulose, maltose, molasses, sucrose and sucrose syrup, among others. These can be listed separately and add up.

Labels list ingredients in descending order of weight. Petits Filous Plus drinks (popular with children) contain 13.1g of total sugars per 100g with sugar listed second and fructose listed fourth. An Alpen raspberry with yoghurt bar lists glucose syrup fourth, and sugar, milk lactose and dextrose lower down. Both these products contain natural and added sugars.

The labelling on the Alpen bar gives no details of specific sugar content. Surprisingly, labelling of sugar is voluntary, unless on a product claiming to be ‘low sugar’.

Which? editor Neil Fowler said: 'It’s no wonder if people are baffled about the amount of sugar they’re consuming. Although many companies do voluntarily label their products, not all do.

 'We support the FSA's front of pack traffic light labelling scheme, but manufacturers need to raise their game and put full nutrition information on the back of packs too.'