The UAE is the fifth fat­test na­tion in the world and most of that is down to the vast amount of sugar hid­den in our food to add flavour. But as 2.8 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally die of obe­sity-re­lated prob­lems, Su­san Grif­fin in­ves­ti­gates how to limit our in­take

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Sniff out those sneaky su­gars.

There’s no point sugar-coat­ing the facts; we’ve got an obe­sity cri­sis on our hands. With de­li­cious but calorific food in Dubai ready to be de­liv­ered to our desk or door 24/7 and dining out so high on the so­cial­is­ing menu, it’s easy to see why peo­ple slip up on their good in­ten­tions.

Life is too short to deny our­selves all foodie de­lights, but there’s a se­ri­ous side; the UAE was the fifth most over­weight na­tion in the world ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished by a

BMC Pub­lic Health Jour­nal in 2012. “Tak­ing a break from the hus­tle and bus­tle of life and ex­am­in­ing the way you eat and your life­style is the first step in trans­form­ing your life and be­com­ing a health­ier ver­sion of your­self,” says Dalia Shukri, Dubaibased head nu­tri­tion­ist at meal­re­place­ment com­pany, Nutri­diet [www.nutri­]. Some­thing as sim­ple as hav­ing break­fast is a good start says Dalia, ex­plain­ing, “Skip­ping the first and most vi­tal meal of the day will lead to an ex­haus­tion of en­ergy by mid­day and make you crave sug­ary foods.”

Sugar is in­creas­ingly be­ing blamed as one of the key cul­prits in this wor­ry­ing epi­demic. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, at least 2.8 mil­lion peo­ple are dy­ing each year as a re­sult of be­ing over­weight or obese, with world­wide obe­sity lev­els dou­bling since 1980.

But it’s not just the frosty coat­ing on a dough­nut, or the num­ber of tea­spoons of the white stuff you add to your cups of tea that’s the prob­lem.

The big­gest cause for con­cern is hid­den sugar, the – some­times vast – quan­ti­ties that’ve been heaped into seem­ingly ‘non-treat’ foods and drinks to add flavour and sweet­ness. Be­cause de­spite con­sumer and var­i­ous gov­ern­ments’ pres­sure on man­u­fac­tur­ers to la­bel foods more clearly, it’s still not al­ways pos­si­ble to know (un­less you’ve done a lot of home­work be­fore­hand) what’s sug­ar­laden and what’s not. As a re­sult, ac­cord­ing to the

BMC Pub­lic Health

Jour­nal’s re­port, the av­er­age UAE adult con­sumes more than 3,000 calo­ries a day, sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the rec­om­mended 2,500 calo­ries for men and 2,000 for women.

Thanks to re­cent pub­lic­ity on the harm­ful ef­fects of sugar re­ports, many of us now know that a sin­gle can of fizzy drink con­tains seven to nine tea­spoon­fuls of sugar. And, although it’s been said a mil­lion times, cut­ting out soft drinks can make a big dif­fer­ence as of­ten they are laden with sugar and empty calo­ries. Don’t be fooled by ‘sports’ or ‘per­for­manceen­hanc­ing’ drinks ei­ther. “These

The big­gest prob­lem is hid­den por­tions of sugar that have been heaped into ‘non-treat’ foods

pro­vide no nu­tri­tional value and only give you a spike in en­ergy fol­lowed by a drop,” says Dalia.

But it’s not sim­ply a case of cut­ting out the ob­vi­ous sus­pects like so­das, choco­late and cakes from your diet. There’s a whole heap of hid­den nas­ties lurk­ing in our food these days.

“Most peo­ple are wise to the prod­ucts that con­tain high sugar lev­els, how­ever, they may not be aware just how much they are con­sum­ing,” says Bri­tish nu­tri­tion­ist Zoe Frith.

“The big­gest sur­prise for con­sumers is the hid­den su­gars in savoury prod­ucts, which can be un­ex­pect­edly high, such as canned goods, ready meals and sauces. We have got used to these sweet­ness lev­els in our food and… would no­tice the dif­fer­ence if sugar lev­els were low­ered.”

The Bri­tish Govern­ment’s Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Nu­tri­tion is rec­om­mend­ing that around 5 per cent (down from 10 per cent) of peo­ple’s daily en­ergy come from free su­gars (those added to food or con­tained in fruit juices, honey, syrups and sweet­ened drinks). That would amount to 25g of sugar for women and 35g, or seven to eight tea­spoon­fuls, for men.

Up­ping your fresh fruit and veg in­take is a no-brainer but, as Dalia notes, the ben­e­fits shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated. “Fresh fruits and vegeta­bles are the most nu­tri­ent­dense foods in the diet, pro­vid­ing more nu­tri­tion per calo­rie than any other kind of food.”

She also sug­gests in­clud­ing plenty of su­per­foods, which will boost over­all health and im­mu­nity as they’re jam-packed with vi­ta­mins and an­tiox­i­dants and guar­an­teed not to con­tain any of the sweet stuff. “These in­clude berries, chia seeds, lin­seeds, spir­ulina, goji berries, sal­mon, soy, oats, pump­kin, spinach, wal­nuts and al­monds.”

But we all know it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to dine out on su­per­foods. So it is cru­cial you know ex­actly what sugar re­ally goes into what, so the chair­man of Ac­tion on Sugar, Bri­tish Prof Gra­ham MacGre­gor, warns of some of the worst cul­prits you need to be wary of. “So fo­cused are we on opt­ing for the ‘healthy’ op­tion that we don’t take the time to read the la­bel prop­erly.” He gives some ex­am­ples from his lo­cal su­per­mar­ket shelves: Yeo Val­ley Zer0 Per Cent Fat Vanilla Yo­ghurt con­tains the equiv­a­lent of five tea­spoons of sugar and the Muller Crunch Cor­ner Straw­berry Short­cake Yo­ghurt fares even worse with six tea­spoons. He adds, “When time is of the essence, most of us will pop into a cof­fee shop for a quick pick-me-up but with­out re­al­is­ing what sugar high we’re set­ting our­selves up for. The Star­bucks Caramel

‘Fresh vegeta­bles and fruit pro­vide more nu­tri­tion per calo­rie than any other kind of food’

Frap­puc­cino with whipped cream, and skimmed milk, con­tains the equiv­a­lent of 11 tea­spoons of sugar.

“You might think wa­ter is a much safer op­tion – and you’d be right if you kept it plain and sim­ple, but Coca-Cola’s Glaceau Vi­ta­m­in­wa­ter De­fence was found to have the equiv­a­lent of four tea­spoons of sugar, that’s the same as a bowl of Kel­logg’s Frosties (with semi-skimmed milk).

“We might al­ready as­so­ciate quick and easy ready meals with du­bi­ous amounts of salt, but sugar is hid­ing in there too. For in­stance, Shar­wood’s Sweet And Sour Chicken With Rice con­tains the equiv­a­lent of six tea­spoons of sugar (the same as Cad­bury’s Hot Drink­ing Choco­late); Heinz Clas­sic Tomato Soup has four; Ragu Tomato And Basil Pasta Sauce comes in at three and Pot Noo­dle Curry King Pot two.”

Still think sugar is sweet? No, it all leaves rather a sour taste.

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