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Sugars Content of Prepackaged Non-alcoholic Beverages in Hong Kong

Abstract

Getting too much sugar may lead to excessive energy intake, increasing the risk of overweight and obesity. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council (CC) have conducted a joint study on sugars content in prepackaged non-alcoholic beverages. This study aims to assess the sugars levels in prepackaged non-alcoholic beverages available in the local market, especially those with nutrition claims on sugars and sugars related statements, and enhance consumers’ understanding on sugars and their awareness of the adverse health effects from excessive intake of sugars.

Background

2. In general, sugars refer to all mono-saccharides and di-saccharides present in food. They provide sweet taste, colour, bulk and thickness to food as well as preserve them. Sugars in food can either be naturally present or added.

3. Sugars provide energy for the body but have no other nutritional value. Getting too much sugar may lead to excessive energy intake, increasing the risk of overweight and obesity. Frequent and excessive intake of sugars can also cause dental caries.

4. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggest that the intake of free sugars i.e. all mono-saccharides and di-saccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrup and fruit juices in diets should be less than 10% of the daily energy intake. For example, an individual with a daily energy intake of 2000kcal should limit the intake of free sugars to less than 50g per day.

5. In Hong Kong , the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment: Requirements for Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claim) Regulation 2008 (“the Amendment Regulation”) will come into force on 1 July 2010 . Upon that time, all applicable prepackaged foods will have to provide nutrition labels on their package with contents of energy and seven specified nutrients, including sugars declared. In addition, nutrient content claims and nutrient comparative claims on sugars are permitted if the prescribed conditions are met. Sugars related statements such as “less sweet” and “no added sugars” are not considered as nutrition claims on sugars.

6. Reading the ingredient list of the prepackaged food can help identify if the food contains added sugars. Names for added sugars in an ingredient list include brown sugar, dextrose/glucose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, sucrose and syrup etc. If they are listed as one of the first few ingredients in the ingredient list, the food may contain relatively high amount of sugars.

 

The study

7. This study covers various prepackaged non-alcoholic beverages, including (i) carbonated drinks (e.g. cola, cream soda, orange soda); (ii) fruit juice and juice drinks (e.g. orange juice, orange juice drink, grape juice drink); (iii) soya beverages; (iv) lactic acid beverages; (v) chocolate and malt drinks; (vi) milk tea and coffee (e.g. ready-to-drink milk tea, ready-to-drink coffee, milk tea mix and coffee mix), (vii) other tea and herbal drinks (e.g. lemon tea, green tea with honey, fruit-flavoured tea, chrysanthemum tea, sugar cane drink and Prunella vulgaris beverage) and (viii) sports and energy drinks.

8. A total of 80 prepackaged beverages (64 ordinary products and 16 with nutrition claims on sugars and/or sugars related statement * ) were purchased from the local market. They were subject to laboratory analysis for sugars, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, protein, sodium and energy conducted by the Food Research Laboratory of the CFS.

9. Salient findings of the study are summarised below:

  • Among 80 samples (powdered products are calculated as 100ml of reconstituted drink), a lactic acid beverage sample contained the highest amount of sugars (16g/100g). Assuming all detected sugars are free sugars, consumption of 1 bottle (100ml) would account for about 30% of the daily recommended intake limit for free sugars.
  • Among 8 types of ordinary beverages (powdered products are calculated as 100ml reconstituted drink), lactic acid beverages contained the highest amount of sugars (mean= 15g /100g) while soya beverages contained the least (mean= 6.4g /100g).
  • It is noted that some soft drinks, juice drinks and lemon tea also contained a relatively high amount of sugars (13g/100g). Consumption of 1 pack (200-330ml) would account for about 50% - nearly 90% of the daily recommended intake limit for free sugars.
  • Out of 11 samples with “low sugars” or “no sugars” claim on label, 6 will not fulfil the “low sugars” (not more than 5g of sugars per 100g/ml of food) or “no sugars” (not more than 0.5g of sugars per 100g/ml of food) condition set out in the Amendment Regulation.
  • Among 7 samples with “less sweet” or “no sugars added” statement, the sugars content ranged from 0.31g to 9.8g per 100g or 100ml (powdered products are calculated as 100ml of reconstituted drink).

A summary of results is listed in the following table:

Food products

Ordinary products

Products with nutrition claims on sugars/ sugars related statement *

No. of samples

Sugars range (g/100g)

No. of samples

Sugars range (g/100g)

(i) Carbonated drinks

6

10 - 13

0

-

(ii) Fruit juice and juice drinks

9

8.1 - 13

1

9.1

(iii) Soya beverages

7

5.3 - 7.2

5

4.8 - 5.5

(iv) Lactic acid beverages

3

13 - 16

1

11

(v) Chocolate and malt drinks

 

Powder mix

5

53 - 67

0

-

(vi) Milk tea and Coffee

 

Ready-to-drink

6

6.4 - 10

0

-

Powder mix

6

36 - 54

5

4.3 - 49

(vii) Other tea and herbal drinks

18

3.0 - 13

4

0.3 - 9.8

(viii) Sports and energy drinks

4

4.4 - 9.7

0

-

Total

64

16

Advice to the Public

  • Maintain a balanced diet. Drink water or light tea instead of beverages with added sugars. Since fruit juices with no added sugars also contain naturally occurring sugars, excessive intake of these products should also be avoided.
  • Nutrition claims should be used as a quick reference only. At any time, consumers should not only focus on the claimed nutrients but also refer to the information provided on the nutrition label and ingredient list for making healthy food choices. Even products with “no sugars” or “low sugars” claims may contain high content of fat or energy.
  • Other statements such as “less sweet” and “no sugars added” provided on labels may not truly reflect the nutrient content of the product. It is advised to refer to the nutrition label for detailed information on the overall nutritional property of the food product.
  • When choosing powdered products, the public is advised to note the amount of powder per serving, the reconstitution instruction and the nutrient content of reconstituted product for better comparison.

 

Advice to the Trade

  • Provide healthier food choices to consumers e.g. product with lower sugars content.
  • Use less sugars in preparing food and beverages.
  • Ensure information (including the ingredients, the nutrient contents as well as the nutrition claims and statements) provided on label is not misleading.
  • Provide the nutrient content of each individual pack of powder or each serving of reconstituted product on label for powdered products for consumers’ reference.
November 2009
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

* Discrepancies were found between the Chinese and English version of the nutrition claim on sugars and sugars related statement in some samples. For the purpose of this study, the nutrition claim on sugars and sugars related statement in Chinese would be used for categorisation and analysis. However, nutrition claims made in any language are covered by the Amendment Regulation and all relevant requirements are applicable to products making nutrition claims in any language.

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Last Revision Date : 16-11-2009