Inside the UK’s secret sugar labs

By Rachel O'Regan |

I Quit Sugar - Inside the UK's secret sugar labs

  • As UK experts call for stricter guidelines on sugar, junk food companies are secretly testing to see if consumers will swallow big changes in their favourite sweet treats.
  • Sugar affects the taste and texture of processed food so much that products “taste bitter” and fall apart without it. All the more reason to JERF, right?
  • According to the British Medical Association, diet-related illnesses lead to around 70,000 premature deaths a year and cost the NHS £6 billion annually.

When is a Hobnob not a Hobnob? According to The Guardian, processed food manufacturers are secretly testing their products to see how UK consumers react to reduced sugar in their favourite tea-time treats. Not well, apparently.

In an effort to get ahead of the rising anti-sugar tidal wave,  Big Food is challenging their researchers to develop sugar-free alternatives to satisfy Britain’s sweet, sweet tooth. But processed foods are so filled with sugar that without it, well, the cookie crumbles – literally, they just fall apart. Replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t work either – taste testers say the products taste “chemical”, “mouth-drying” and “bitter”. Manufacturers are seriously spooked.

But why the sudden interest in sugar-free now? Under new expert recommendations, Britons should limit sugar to just 5 per cent of daily calorie intake, or around six teaspoons of sugar. With over 70,000 diet related deaths a year, costing the NHS £6 billion annually, there is mounting pressure for the government to implement strict sugar regulations in its forthcoming obesity strategy.

If these guidelines are adopted, Big Food is in Big Trouble. If they want their products to sit within the daily limit, they’ll need to change the recipes. But, if they want people to accept less sweet versions, they’re looking at breaking an addiction they’ve encouraged in the British public over decades. But Graham MacGregor, chairman of health group Action on Sugar says that, historically, making the shift is possible.

“We’ve been very successful in reducing salt. It’s gone down by 30-40 per cent and nobody’s noticed […] The government knows it can enforce [change] if it wants to. We did it with tobacco; you can easily take out up to 50 per cent of the sugar without anybody noticing, if you do it slowly.”

Is this really the solution to obesity? Reducing the sugar limit will help people make healthier decisions and force companies to reduce their sugar portions, which is great. But we also need policy which targets the importance of eating real food and making it cheaper and available for all. Otherwise the only result we’ve got is a tasteless pack of biscuits.

Are you living in the UK? Let us know your stance on the sugar debate and fill us in on the action over there.

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

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