Not So Sugar-Free After All
Not So Sugar-Free After All
A story broke in the papers over the weekend regarding the 'I Quit Sugar' brand of muesli bar and snack mixes, produced by the food company Nature’s Own. A Current Affair have investigated further and interviewed me this morning for my views. The controversy is that from the name you would assume these products are sugar free, but in fact the packet instructions direct you to mix the contents with other ingredients, one of which is rice malt syrup. And what is rice malt syrup? Well it’s sugar.
The Nature’s Own website has several conflicting comments. They correctly state that Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend us to limit our intake of foods containing added sugars, but then state that this is why they have produced recipes that are fructose-free. Our dietary guidelines say nothing about limiting fructose – they state that all added sugars should be limited. And the strongest evidence against added sugar is in relation to dental health, but also to avoid additional kilojoules.
In their blog “9 high sugar foods you thought were healthy” they list muesli bars, stating “Pre-packaged muesli bars can be surprisingly high in sugar, despite their health-conscious profile. Consider making your own with nutrient-dense wholefoods and naturally sweeten with rice malt syrup.” Naturally sweeten? Well table sugar is also natural, so what is different about rice malt syrup?
You can extract sugar from many plants including sugar beet, sugar cane, coconut palm trees (sold as coconut sugar), corn and, you guessed it, from rice. But once extracted and refined they are all just different mixtures of sugars. 'I Quit Sugar' argue that they recommend rice malt syrup because it is fructose free – and it is. So the brand should really be called I Quit Fructose, but I guess that’s not so catchy.

"You can extract sugar from many plants including sugar beet, sugar cane, coconut palm trees (sold as coconut sugar), corn and, you guessed it, from rice"
Rice malt syrup is a mixture of glucose, maltose (two glucose units joined together) and maltotriose (three glucose units joined together). Some of the jars say on the pack that it is a complex carbohydrate and is slowly absorbed by the body. Let’s be absolutely clear about this. It is not a complex carbohydrate – it is sugar. Secondly it has an extremely high glycaemic index (GI) of 98. That means our digestive enzymes break it down to the individual glucose units very quickly, resulting in a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. Fructose by contrast goes first to the liver where, when consumed in typical quantities, it is converted to glucose, delaying the release of glucose into the blood. This is why table sugar has a moderate GI of 65. (Read more on rice malt syrup in my Food Library)
Fructose and glucose are both damaging if consumed in excess of kilojoule requirements. Why is it so hard for us to digest the message that “the poison is in the dose” and lose the simplistic messaging that just one sugar, fructose, is THE problem. But a story on fructose is for another post. (For more on fructose read Dr David Katz’s article Fructose and the Follies of History)
What irks me here is not the products themselves, but the blatantly misleading advertising - the implication that these are sugar-free products when they are most definitely not. The company should be forced to put on their packs the nutrition analysis for the product as prepared by their instructions as this is what you eat – not the product in the box. But since they fail to put this on pack, here it is for you. I have analysed the I Quit Sugar muesli bars (coconut and vanilla) and compared them to my client Freedom Foods Crunchola muesli bars (apricot, coconut & chia). Guess which is higher in sugar? The 'I Quit Sugar' brand.
Comparing them bar for bar, The Freedom Foods bars were 34% lower in kilojoules and have 40% less sugar. Admittedly the Freedom Foods bar is a slightly smaller portion so comparing them on an equal weight basis, the Freedom Foods bar has 17% fewer kilojoules and 24% less sugar. But in reality you will of course always eat a full bar.

"a Freedom Foods muesli bar has 34% fewer kilojoules and 40% less sugar than an I Quit Sugar bar"



For as long as I have been a dietitian we have recommended that we limit our consumption of added sugars, so this is not a controversial topic despite what the media would have us believe. A little sugar is fine in your diet and it’s necessary in a muesli bar to hold it all together as well as for taste. So I don’t criticise Nature's Own for adding sugar, just for trying to make us believe that there is none. Freedom Foods worked hard to produce a bar with one of the lowest levels of sugar in a muesli bar on the market and they’re proving that they have done just that. And you can see for yourself by reading the nutrition info right there on the pack. Let's have such transparency on all products on our supermarket shelves.

For accurate information on all forms of sugar and other sweeteners, get yourself a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Sugars & Sweeteners from Dr Alan Barclay, Philippa Sandall & Claudia Shwide-Slavin.