Nutritionists dispute relevance of sugar levels in chocolate spreads following report

iStock/ AlinLyre

Chocolate spreads and jams contain huge amounts of sugar, with two slices of bread containing the entire maximum daily intake - but some experts have questioned whether the quantities eaten are large enough to contribute to obesity

Today’s report by the Action on Sugar (AOS) network, a UK pressure group working to reduce sugar intake in the public diet, reveals high levels of sugar in chocolate spreads and jams.

Based in London, AOS has led the charge against free sugars (added sugars not occurring naturally in products) since 2014, mounting pressure on industry to begin reformulating products and on the government to enforce penalties where self-regulation does not occur.

Survey details

In a survey of 272 sweet spreads including jams, marmalades and chocolate spreads, Queen Mary University London - who conducted the study with AOS - found vast levels of free sugars in the majority of products.

Two thirds of surveyed chocolate spreads, for example, contained an average 10 g sugar per 20 g serving, with 57 teaspoons of sugar per jar.

AOS accuses many brands of misleading labelling – Nutella, for example, is marketed as a ‘hazelnut spread’ despite containing four times more sugar than hazelnuts.

The Women’s Institute’s ‘Fine Cut English Breakfast Marmalade’ was the product with the highest sugar content surveyed, containing 71 g sugar per 100 g of marmalade.

Reactions

AOS has reiterated its calls for industry regulation, saying lawmakers should ‘get tough’.

Supermarket Tesco announced it would be cutting sugar content in its private label chocolate spreads. We’re committed to helping our customers live healthier lives with initiatives such as free fruit for kids in our stores, reducing the sugar content of our soft drinks and removing sweets from our checkouts.”

Ferrero, which makes Nutella, said its spreads are to be enjoyed as part of a varied diet, with clear labelling recommendations for small servings and advertising “always aimed at adults, never at children”.

Chairman of AOS and professor of cardiovascular medicine Graham MacGregor however accused companies of intentionally targeting children, saying such companies should “consider their ethical and corporate responsibility. They should immediately stop this misleading marketing and ensure that they go well beyond the 20% sugar reduction that Public Health England is calling for, as there are already identical spreads that contain far less sugar.”

'Panic on a plate?'

Rob Lyons, science and technology director at the Institute of Ideas - a London based think tank - and author of ‘Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder’, took a different line, telling FoodNavigator: “Action on Sugar regularly produces such ‘shock horror’ stories, but jams and chocolate spreads are supposed to be sweet.

"Jams traditionally rely on high sugar levels as a preservative. Only by comparison with the government’s baseless target for sugar consumption – just 5% of calories – can these figures seem shocking. Such scaremongering has been aided and abetted by government policy. The only result will be more pressure on manufacturers to produce foods that are less enjoyable than before.”

Nutritionist Dr. Carrie Ruxton, who has often been a supporter of sugar reduction, agreed that the focus on spreads is largely misguided, saying: 

"While it is always good to make clear to consumers the sugar content of products, I'm not convinced that sweet spreads make a large contribution to sugar intakes. It is also difficult to reformulate these products due to the role that sugar is playing in terms of bulk and microbiological safety.

“Perhaps it is better to target portion sizes, as I understand that the recommended serving size for Nutella is 15 g, not the amounts presented by Action on Sugar. If people used the correct amount, they would consume 81 calories and 8.5 g of sugar which is comparable to toast and jam, or a breakfast cereal with milk.”

Related News

© iStock

One in three adolescents is obese, say WHO

'It is wise not to attempt to silence NGOs nor thwart legitimate campaigning activities,' warns Dr Carrie Ruxton. Photo: iStock.com

Are you dictating to me? UK industry group and health charity clash over reformulation

Leaked UK obesity strategy documents apparently show a proposed voluntary 20% reduction in sugar by 2020, falling short of the 50% recommended by Action on Sugar. ©iStock

Call for UK to bulk up childhood obesity strategy in wake of leaked plans

© iStock/bogdandreava

The big debate: Can sugar survive a public health crisis?

UK sugar tax confirmed in Budget 2017

UK sugar tax confirmed in Budget 2017

Related Products

See more related products

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.