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Niamh is the editorial assistant for Healthy Food Guide. She loves trying out the latest healthy food trends and gets stuck in with trialling new exercise classes

Most of us know that we risk consuming hidden sugars and empty calories when we eat at restaurants and cafes. But what else did we learn from Sugar Awareness Week 2018 (12th-18th November)?

Concerns about the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes have been rife in the media in recent years. The main culprit? Sugar. In response, celebrities such as Jamie Oliver have tried to tackle the issue, clamping down on energy drinks and pops.

Following a government-enforced ‘sugar tax’ on the worst offenders, there has been some improvement in the market. Several brands even chose to reformulate their recipes in order to avoid upping prices. But although sugar awareness has improved somewhat, we still have a mountain to climb when it comes to sweet treats. Last week, Australian-born ‘freakshakes’ (extra-indulgent milkshakes) came under fire. One offering from Toby Carvery was revealed to contain nearly 1,300 calories per serve, and 39 teaspoons of sugar.

Do you know how much sugar is in your favourite pop?Image of fizzy drinks

On Wednesday 14th November, experts gathered for the Action on Sugar reception at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. On the panel were: Cathy Port, Head of Category for Sweet and Impulse at Costa UK; Healthy Food Guide’s nutrition editor, Amanda Ursell; Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson; dietician, Priya Tew and chairman of Action on Sugar, Professor Graham MacGregor. Here are five things we took away from their discussion on Sugar Awareness Week:

1. The general public are still confused about sugar. Despite the public’s raised awareness, they are now also worried about ‘good’ sugars, found naturally in fruit. It’s important to remember that sugars found in fresh fruit don’t count towards our total 30g of free (added) sugars a day. There are many benefits of eating fruit that shouldn’t be ignored: it provides dietary fibre, vitamin C and folate and more.

We should eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day…Image of fruit salad

2. Retailers still need to do more. Tom Watson said he would buy healthier alternatives if they were readily available in Costa. Professor Graham MacGregor said: ‘These companies would still make money if they sold healthier alternatives, but selling junk is very profitable.’ If you are planning a meal or coffee out and are unsure, we’d recommend checking for nutritional information on the company’s website.

3. Schools aren’t getting it right either. It seems that children still aren’t being educated properly when it comes to healthy eating. Some of the advice coming from teachers, said Priya Tew, is that sweets should be totally off-limits. This often makes them more desirable to children and doesn’t promote the concept of balance. Instead of banning sweets entirely, parents should try to introduce children to lower sugar treats from a young age, so that they enjoy healthier options too.

Click below for tips on packing a healthy lunchbox…Our healthy lunchbox guide

4. We should copy our parent’s cooking habits. A convenience generation that eat out twice a week, Amanda Ursell said we’d be better off cooking from scratch. Although we often criticise older generations when it comes to health awareness, traditional family meals providing meat, carbohydrates and vegetables are well-balanced and often avoid the hidden sugars and salt found in jarred sauces and microwave meals.

5. The Labour party plans to halt the diabetes rise. Having reversed his type 2 diabetes through weight-loss and a healthy diet, politician Tom Watson is on a mission.  He said Labour would attempt to halt the rise of type 2 diabetes in a five-year term if they were elected.

To improve your own sugar awareness, visit the Action on Sugar website.