The war on sugar rages on and a sugar tax on soft drinks in the UK serves as a recent attempt to cut down people’s sugar intake. Researchers have been hard at work to identify additional sources of food and drink that contain high levels of sugar to help consumers eating a low sugar diet.

The result? Potatoes. More specifically a baked potato.

BBC documentary, The Truth about Carbs, made the shocking revelation that the average baked potato contains an average of 19 lumps of sugar whereas a can of cola only contains about seven lumps of sugar – so a baked potato contains nearly as much sugar as there would be in three cans of cola. But is this really as bad as it sounds?

The difference between natural and refined sugars

While it is true that consuming high levels of sugar is bad for overall health, consumers need to understand the distinct difference between natural sugar and processed/refined sugar.

Generally, the natural sugars from sources such as potatoes and fruit come alongside nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Refined sugar, on the other hand, does not contain any other healthy properties and is usually made up of sucrose (which combines glucose and fructose together, 50% each).

As a result, consuming natural sugars provides health benefits that refined sugar are unable to offer. Since natural sugars tend to contain fibre, they help to slow down the absorption of sugar into the body, allowing the body to break down sugar at a steadier rate and avoiding spikes in blood sugar level. So in terms of sugar content, a baked potato is comparatively healthier than cola due to the difference in how sugar is digested.

No matter what form sugar comes in, it is a simple carbohydrate that is broken down for energy, and consuming too much will lead to health problems. But the fight against sugar should not start villainising natural products. Many fruit and vegetables such as grapes and sweet potatoes contain high levels of sugar– but this does not mean consumers should stop eating them as part of a balanced diet.

Manufacturers of food and drinks product should aim to reformulate as well as release their new products using mainly natural sugars. Where this is not possible, i.e. with existing products that already contain high amounts of natural sugars, clear labelling on packaging will help make the distinction that it does not contain refined sugars and help consumers make informed decisions in regards to their sugar intake.

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