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Consumers misled on honey and so-called healthier syrups, despite them being officially categorised the same way as table sugar

2 May 2019

Embargoed until 02/05/2019, 00.01 hours (UK time)

Consumers misled on honey and so-called healthier syrups, despite them being officially categorised the same way as table sugar

Media Coverage

Honey and syrups data [PDF 218KB]

  • Honey and syrups are free sugars, just like table sugar, and need to be reduced in our diets
  • Some food products claimed to be made with honey are actually made with up to 25 times more table sugar than they are of honey
  • All food and drink packaging should have mandatory front of pack labelling, clearly displaying its true contribution to our daily free sugars intake (30g)
  • Action on Sugar is calling for Public Health England to educate consumers about free sugars, including those from honey via its Change4Life programme

NEW data by Action on Sugar at Queen Mary University of London, which analysed a total of 223 honeys, sugars and syrups, all widely available in UK supermarkets, found that honey can be up to 86% free sugars (i.e. any sugars added to food or drink derived from fruit juice, honeys or syrups) while maple syrup can be made of 88% free sugars.[1]

This comes as experts are deeply concerned that consumers are still adding excessive amounts of honey and syrups to food and drink products believing them to be ‘healthy alternatives’ to table sugar,[2] not knowing there are almost as much sugars in them as in table sugar.

High and lower free sugars-containing sugars, honeys and syrups

Free sugars category

High example

Sugars (g) per 100g/ml

Sugar (tsp) per 100g

Lower example

Sugars (g) per 100g/ml

Sugar (tsp) per 100g

Table Sugar or equivalent

Billington's Fairtrade Golden Granulated Natural Unrefined Sugar Cane

100

25

Whole Earth Sweetener Co. Sweet Mini Cubes with Stevia

0

0

Syrups

Morrisons The Best 100% Pure Canadian Maple Syrup

87.6

22

Clarks Carob Fruit Syrup

47.3

12

Honey

Asda Extra Special Manuka Honey

86

22

Odysea Pine & Fir Tree Honey

56.1

14


Despite the fact that the official definition of free sugars puts honey and syrups in the same category as table sugar, consumers are still being misled through claims on packaging that imply honey and other types of free sugars are healthier alternatives to table sugar.[3] Action on Sugar is calling today for the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock MP, to mandate clearer labelling in his upcoming green paper on prevention, and for Public Health England (PHE) to create wider education for consumers via its nationwide Change4Life programme about other sugar variants such as honey and syrups added to products and their contribution to maximum sugar intake (30g/day max per adult or approx. 7 teaspoons).

One portion (15ml) of Morrisons The Best 100% Pure Canadian Maple Syrup added to your porridge contains 13.1g of total sugars, not that much less than 15g of table sugar.[4] Adding a teaspoon (7g) of Asda Extra Special Manuka Honey to your tea, contains about 6g sugars is, again, similar to adding a teaspoon of sugar (4g). Consumed together for breakfast that is almost two-thirds (19.1g) of an adult’s maximum intake of sugar per day (30g).

Consumers are being warned that the evidence around the supposed health benefits of honey is limited. There are no approved health and nutrition claims for honey. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and PHE found there was only enough evidence from randomised controlled trials to suggest honey reduced symptoms of acute cough in children and young people,[5] however, it was noted in these guidelines that honey is still a sugar and can contribute to tooth decay.[6]

Mandatory front of pack labelling, clearly outlining the sugars from free sugars and their contribution to our maximum sugar intake is vital.  Action on Sugar found products sold in supermarkets boast the addition of honey in their product descriptions - often misleading consumers into thinking they are a healthier option - yet contain up to 25 times more table sugar or other syrups than honey![7]

Examples of products with marketing claims or product descriptions highlighting the addition of honey, even though there is more sugar added to the product than honey

Product

Marketing claim/product description on pack*

Total Sugars (%)

 

Honey (%)

Nature Valley Crunchy Oats & Honey 5X42g

Crunchy cereal bars made whole grain rolled oats and honey

28.3

2

Sainsbury’s Honey Nut Corn Flakes

Crunchy toasted, sweetened cornflakes with chopped peanuts and honey

28.3

0.4

Tesco Honey Nut Clusters Belgian Milk Chocolate

Oat flakes and crisped rice clusters with peanut and honey, garnished with milk chocolate curls

26.1

2.5

Graze Honey with Whole Oats Protein Oat Bites 4x30g

Wholegrain oat flapjacks with honey, mixed seeds and soy protein

20

6

Stoats Raspberry & Honey Porridge Oat Bar 4x50g

A classic Fan-favourite, our raspberry & honey porridge oat bars are made by hand with wholegrain Scottish oats, creamy butter, tangy raspberries and sweet honey. Packed with natural goodness and a source of fibre for a deliciously filling treat.

22.4

0.8

Jordans Country Crisp Honey & Nut

Honey & Nuts: a classic combination. Get ready for light and crunchy golden oat clusters baked with honey and a generous handful of sliced almonds plus roasted chopped hazelnuts. And the best part? They stay crunchy to the last bite.

22.3

2

Waitrose Oats & Honey Bars 5x30g

A wholegrain fibre bar with oats & honey

20.4

5

*Photos of product packaging available on request

It is not just in supermarkets that these confusing messages are being given to customers. Popular so-called healthier syrups and sugar alternatives e.g. agave syrup and brown or coconut sugar are often promoted as healthier options in independent coffee shops too.

Moreover many of the leading cafes promote honey as part of their ‘healthy’ porridge offering, which is still contributing to a person’s maximum free sugars intake: Pret a MangerBircher muesli (honey)[8], LeonPorridge of the Gods (honey)[9], PureOrganic porridge with Manuka honey blend[10] and EATBanana, honey and Grape Nuts.[11]

Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London says: “It’s disappointing that companies boast about products containing honey, knowing that honey and syrups are nearly as high in sugars as table sugar. The amount added is often really small (1 or 2g) while the main sweetening ingredient continues to be other high-sugar syrups and table sugar (25g). This is to mislead customers into thinking the products are healthier and better than they really are. Our advice is to always opt for less sweetness by using less sugar, syrups and honey.”

Katharine Jenner, Registered Nutritionist and Director of Action on Sugar says: “Poor nutrition labelling, misleading marketing claims, and mixed messages from well meaning food bloggers and chefs, mean customers are rightly confused about what free sugars actually are, which products contain them, and how much they contribute to their total daily sugar intake. Too many calories from all types of sugars contributes to increasing risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, liver disease and tooth decay, all of which have devastating effects on health and wellbeing. 

“How can we be expected to make healthier choices, as suggested by the Secretary of State for Health, when we don’t even know what’s going into our food?  Clearer labelling, and education about what that means, really could help us to live well for longer.[12]

Ends

For more information contact: David Clarke @ Rock PR:

E: david@rock-pr.com M: 07773 225516

Join the conversation @actiononsugar

Notes to editors:

Action on Sugar is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in food and drink products.

This work was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

[1] Survey details – full survey sorted by highest sugars per 100g attached with this release.

  • Data was collected for 223 products.
  • Data per 100g was available for 218 products.
  • Data was collected in store during Jan 2019 from the following supermarkets: Aldi, ASDA, The Co-operative, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Results

  • 102 Honey products
  • 70 Sugar products
  • 46 Syrup products

[2] Table sugar refers to sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose, it is commonly producted from refining sugar from sugar cane and sugar beet.

[3] Free sugars include honey, syrups and nectars whether added to products during manufacture or by the consumer. This includes ingredients such as malt extract and glucose syrup, lactose and galactose added as ingredients and all sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purees, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products. All sugars in drinks are included too such as alcoholic drinks and dairy-alternative nut-based drinks. However, milk and other dairy-based drinks are not included. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/2A2B3A70999052A15FD157C105B3D745/S136898001800085Xa.pdf/definition_of_free_sugars_for_the_uk.pdf

[4] Typical serving of syrup is a tablespoon about 15ml/g https://groceries.morrisons.com/webshop/product/Morrisons-The-Best-Pure-Maple-Syrup/344329011

[5] NHS Behind the Headlines. Honey, not antibiotics, recommended for coughs. 2018. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/honey-not-antibiotics-recommended-coughs/

[6] NICE. Guideline [NG120]. Cough (acute): antimicrobial prescribing. 2019. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-ng10116/documents/draft-guideline [Accessed 11/2/2019]

[7] Examples of products with added honey and syrups were also sought from supermarkets in store during April 2019

[8] Pret A Manger https://www.pret.co.uk/en-gb/1489-breakfast-bircher-muesli.aspx

[9] Leon https://leon.co/menu/breakfast/menu-item/porridge-of-the-gods-3

[10] Pure https://www.pure.co.uk/menus/breakfast/

[11] EAT https://eat.co.uk/our-menu/breakfast/porridge-toppings-and-yoghurt-pots/banana-honey-grape-nuts_10001882.html

[12] Department of Health and Social Care. 2018 Prevention is better than cure. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/753688/Prevention_is_better_than_cure_5-11.pdf

 

 

 

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