Sugar reduction

Sugar has been a hot topic in the news for a while now. There has been the controversial sugar tax, in which I personally am very keen to see how effective it is. Public Health England (PHE) set out new sugar guidelines in 2015, where people over 11 years of age should be having no more than 30g a day of added sugars. This is less for children ages 7-10 years at 24g and even less for those 4-6 years at 19g.  Five percent of our energy only should come from added sugars.

It is not just the consumers; PHE has also set targets for the food industry. By 2020 every sector of the food industry that contributes to the top foods that provide children with the most sugar needs to reduce the sugar content by 20%. This may be via reformulation, reducing portion sizes or shifting consumer purchase to low or no sugar options.

These, in theory, are fantastic and already, in my general practice, I am advising my patients to reduce their sugar intake. I’m full of ideas; switch to diet drinks, cook from scratch, fewer biscuits, cakes and sweets and Greek Yoghurt instead of fruit yoghurt. Always easier said than done but am I really practising what I preach with my own children? Are these guidelines easy to advise on as dietitians but harder to follow as a parent?

Putting theory into practice

My eldest daughter is 4 and is therefore recommended to have 19g of sugar a day. What is this in actual food terms? She loves Raisin Wheats, the breakfast cereal and a 45g portion of these is 8.1g straight away. I’m lucky she doesn’t have fizzy drinks or squashes and we don’t tend to use jars or ready meals, so this cuts it down a little. Unfortunately, she isn’t really a fruit lover and snack time becomes hard. A yoghurt, cheese and nuts she will eat but she also quite likes malt loaf. One-fifth of a loaf is 10g of sugar and she is almost at her limit before we add in the added sugar in fromage frais or the chocolate, she begs me for after her tea some days.

I’m not going to lie, keeping sugar to the recommended levels is hard for me to always achieve with my daughter. It only takes us to attend a birthday party, with sweets as prizes, ice cream for pudding and a slice of cake in her party bag for her to have gone well over. One can argue this is only a one-off, which is fine but they do add up and who wants to be that mean dietitian Mum, secretly sweating the corner about the 19g a day sugar limit for their practising?!

Who should take the responsibility?

I’m educated and qualified. I read labels. I scrutinize my child’s food choices and I still struggle. What does mean for someone who doesn’t understand nutrition? Someone who can’t afford to be picky or hasn’t got time to sit and read the labels 30 times over on a food shop?

The food industries, of course have a massive role to play in this and recently unfortunately we have seen they have failed to meet their 5% reduction target for the first year. Only 3 of the 8 foods have achieved this; breakfast cereals, sweet spread and sauces and yoghurts and fromage frais.

This puts even more pressure on the consumer and for us as health professionals. As a dietitian and mother, I am always conflicted when feeding my children but I do feel this has helped me to tailor my advice more to my patients. I know I need to be more practical when it comes to helping others reduce their sugar intake. I need to be even prescriptive when it comes to what foods to avoid and reduce.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We all need to reduce our sugar consumption but to this the food industry need to play their part and we as health professionals, need to channel our own experiences into tailored, practical advice that can be followed. Guidelines are just that: guidelines until we bring real life and real families into our advice.

I’ll just have to keep the chocolate hidden from my daughter in our house!

Thanks for reading. Please do share on social media and if you like what you read, do sign up to our new post newsletters below.

Title Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

A version of this article was first published in the NHD Magazine.