COMMENT:

How much sugar do you drink? It might be more than you think, even if you've already given sugary fizzy drinks the flick.

The Dental Association is encouraging us to make the switch to water this month, in its annual campaign to draw attention to the damage sugary drinks can do. They're focusing on teeth, but others, like the FIZZ group which held its symposium last week, also focus on the links between sugary drinks, obesity and diabetes.

We all know, by now, the huge amounts of sugar lurking in fizzy drinks — a 600ml soft drink bottle can contain up to 16 teaspoons, for example.

Advertisement

We may have switched to sugar-free options. The drinks industry tells us this is a growing trend; within a short time, they say, sugar-free drinks sales are likely to exceed those of sugary drinks.

This is a good thing, although health experts are not ecstatic about artificially sweetened drinks, either. That's because they're still acidic, which is bad for teeth, and they still encourage a taste for sweet things.

There's some emerging evidence that artificial sweeteners may also still contribute to being overweight and obesity via the gut bacteria.

Perhaps you prefer something natural. Kombucha is a trendy and potentially healthful beverage that's being made by everyone, now, from home fermenters like me to big companies like Frucor and Coca-Cola. There are lots of brands available in the supermarket.

But it pays to take a close look and compare.

When you make kombucha, you add sugar — the fermentation process needs this. Most of the sugar is fermented out, just as with alcoholic beverages. But commercially made kombucha can have sugars added back in again as flavours.

You'll find kombuchas with as much as 24g of sugar in a bottle — that's nearly five teaspoons. (Although for some reason 4g is the commonly quoted measure for a teaspoon of sugar, an official teaspoon of sugar in NZ is 4.9 grams.)

Other kombuchas have less than a teaspoon of sugar. That's because they use other sweeteners such as stevia or erythritol.

Advertisement

Good luck, by the way, finding nutrition information or ingredients lists on some companies' websites. I'm looking at you, Remedy and Amplify — you don't make it easy for consumers to get the detail on your products without having to scrutinise the labels in store.

The same scrutiny is needed with another drink we might think of as fairly benign: flavoured water. In a quick survey of what's on shelf I found "water" with anywhere from zero sugar (thanks again to other sweeteners) to those with 17g sugar (3.5 teaspoons) in a bottle. That's more than half the added sugar the WHO says we should have in a day.

There's a chance we could see added sugar highlighted on food labels in the near future, which would be a huge help for shoppers. But in the meantime we still need to be label detectives to suss out the sugar.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.co.nz