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HOT TOPIC: cutting back on sugar

Amanda Ursell, Consultant Nutritionist, CH&Co Group, looks at sugar in school catering

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 26, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

We all know that we need to cut back on sugar, but this isn’t always easy, not least because ‘sugar’ comes in many forms and can sometimes be hidden away.

Taking sugar seriously is important because while our children may look fine on the outside, eating and drinking too much can lead to tooth decay as well as to the build-up of harmful fats on the insides of their bodies, where we can’t see it. Fat stored around vital organs, even in childhood and teenage years is a problem as it can lead to serious diseases like weight gain, type two diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. All in all, getting sugar-wise is important not just for the immediate health and wellbeing of our children, but also for their future.

What are added and free sugars?

It’s easy to see the amount of white or brown table sugar that we add into drinks or sprinkle onto breakfast cereals. It’s less easy to gauge what is incorporated into sweets, cakes, biscuits, puddings and drinks or even savoury soups and pasta sauces. The same is true for the so-called ‘free’ sugars which are present in honey, agave and coconut nectar, molasses, syrup or treacle, to name
a few.

The bottom line is that these all count towards your daily sugar totals. So too do the sugars found naturally present in fruit juices, even if they are freshly squeezed.

How much should we aim for?  

People in all age groups are managing to chomp and drink their way through more of these sugars than the government advise. The recommendations that came out last year say we should not make up more than 5% of our daily calories from these sugars.

From age 11, this means limiting our free and added sugars to 30g a day. This is equivalent to seven cubes or seven (4g) teaspoons of white or brown table sugar. For children aged 7–10, it is 24g of sugar a day maximum. This amounts to the equivalent of six cubes or teaspoons. For children from 4–6 years the maximum is 19g or five cubes or teaspoons.

When you consider that a can of fizzy drink can contain nine teaspoons of sugar or more, chilled desserts four teaspoons and muffins five teaspoons plus, you can easily see how sugar intakes can quickly stack up.

Amanda Ursell, Consultant Nutritionist for CH&Co Group of which The Brookwood Partnership is the group's specialist education caterer

What about the sugars in milk and fruit?

The sugar in milk is called lactose and is found in cappuccinos, lattes and yoghurts for instance. Lactose does not count towards your daily sugar totals. Nor does the fructose or fruit sugar as it is often also called, found in whole fresh fruit and dried fruits. This means that the fruit sugars in apples, oranges and bananas along with sultanas and dried apricots, do not count towards your daily total.

Once you squeeze fresh fruit into a juice, the sugars do count. The good news though is that when drunk at mealtimes in a 150ml serving, pure fruit juice counts as one serving of fruit and vegetables for the day, so it doesn’t need to be banned, just carefully controlled.

How to keep tabs on sugar intake?

Food labels often use red, amber and green coding to tell us how much fat, sugar and salt is in a portion of food or drink. Glancing at these labels before buying can be a great way of reducing sugar-rich items from your children’s food – if you buy mostly products with a green for sugar.

If there are no ‘traffic light’ symbols, you can also look for how many grams of sugar they contain per 100 grams. A food with more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g is considered to be ‘high’ in sugar while those with less than 5g per 100g are ‘low’.

Sugar by a different name  

And when all else fails, ingredients labels can often give you a great insight into the sugar lurking in foods and drinks. Keep your eyes peeled, because as well as cane sugar, honey and nectars, there are lots of other different words including high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, crystalline sucrose and corn sugar.

Weaning children away from sugar-rich foods and drinks isn’t necessarily easy and can take time and perseverance. Both are worth the effort. By changing taste preferences now you can help your child develop habits that will last them a lifetime. 

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