Study: Food sold in Estonia contains surprising amounts of added sugar

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Meat products. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Health Development (TAI), food sold in Estonia contains surprising amounts of added sugars, including in foods where it might not be expected.

TAI studied the sugar, salt and fat content of 4,000 products sold in Estonia's shops, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday night.

Author of the study Haidi Kanamäe said that in small amounts, adding sugar is justifiable from a food tech perspective, but sugar is still to be found added to many more products than might be expected.

Kanamäe said: "The sugar content in meat products was surprising. Even though the average contents are not major, the different sugars and their combinations are used quite widely."

Sugar was found in every third product the study analyzed, including in significant quantities to pates, meat snacks and sandwich spreads. Olle Horm, head of meat products firm Atria, said that sugar is a flavor enhancer and is thus more often used in heavily-flavored products.

Horm said: "In classical meat products, sugar content is around 0.2 to 0.6 percent, but if the product contains teriyaki or some other strong marinade, this percentage is higher."

"Sugar, unlike salt, doesn't have a functional effect. Salt is necessary both as a preservative and for structure, but sugar is primarily a question of flavoring," he noted.

Horm said that the average Estonian man is not partial to "sugary" meat products, so such is generally not added to classic products, but can be found in American-style product ranges.

The meat industry has started to think about reducing the amount of salt in products for some time, while sugar hasn't as yet come up on the radar.

The phenomenon can also be found in breads.

Muhu Bakery grain bread contains 9 grams of sugar per 100 grams, though this is far from a record. Rye bread containing up to 14 grams of sugar can also be found in stores. However, by evening grain bread is often sold out, unlike the sugar-free varieties, the report found.

"Sugar binds bread, adds tenderness, strengthens the aroma," Merle Männasalu, baker from the Muhu firm, said.

Haidi Kanamäe noted that consumers must be ready to accept products with lower salt and sugar content, and should also make changes in their own diets.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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