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Gauging the sugar content in food

Indicator proposed by Noakes Foundation.

Indicator proposed by Noakes Foundation.

Published Sep 20, 2016


A South African initiative aimed at helping children and those unable to read identify the amount of sugar a product contains is receiving international consideration.

Borne on the back of the sugar tax debate and the discussion around whether such a strategy would realistically lead to a reduction in obesity rates, Eat Better South Africa, the educational arm of The Noakes Foundation, has developed The Sugar BarometerTM – a labelling product that indicates the sugar and carbohydrate content of a food item.

The foundation has approached several local major retailers and private brands about putting the barometer on products that contain sugar, and several private brands have agreed.

It has now caught the attention of Mexican and Cuban companies as well.

Jayne Bullen, manager of The Noakes Foundation, said sugar goes by a number of aliases and it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern the exact nutritional contents of food.

“We suggest that a far more progressive approach would be the mandated addition of the Sugar BarometerTM onto the front of packaging of all food and beverages, coupled with a very clear tax incentive.

"Those that honestly and openly disclose the sugar content of their food should pay less sugar tax and be commended – food, beverage and retailers alike.

"We are in talks with businesses in Mexico and Cuba which are interested in the initiative. We are still working on how to propose it to the South African government,” Bullen said.

Health Department spokesman Joe Maila said the department had not been approached by the foundation, and only once they had looked at its proposal would he be able to comment.

The University of the Western Cape’s professor in the dietetics and nutrition department, Rina Swart, said the notion of nutrient profiling had been debated for a long time between the government and stakeholders, but a solution had not yet been reached because the issue was complex.

Swart said profiling had to include all nutrients, so as not to mislead buyers about what exactly they were consuming.

“If, for example, the profiling shows a product is low in sugar but not high in fat or salt, then it might be a problem.

"Some countries have tried the profiling, with some success,” Swart added.

In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the introduction of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

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