Scientists working with Public Health England have already ruled that fruit juices, smoothies and fruit bars contain too many harmful “free sugars” which are being blamed for the national obesity crisis.
But now PHE has also decided that savoury foods such as vegetables, beans and pulses are also sources of free sugars if they have been pureed. Critics say the ruling will only add to public confusion over whether certain foods are healthy or not.
They claim that including pureed vegetable in the list of foods to be restricted will make it even harder for people to cut their sugar intake.
Experts say adults should restrict free sugar to no more than five per cent of their total calorie intake – equivalent to seven cubes of sugar, while children should eat far less.
Free sugars are defined as those which have been refined as opposed to those which are naturally present in many foods.
Public health nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire said: “The more you think about it, the crazier it seems.
“Public Health England is saying natural sugars in fruit, vegetables and pulses become unhealthy free sugars when these foods are pureed and their cell structure is broken down.
“But what is the difference between pureeing food and chewing it?
“By the time it hits your digestive system, where sugars are absorbed, it’s all broken down anyhow.
“Given that fruit and vegetable intakes are already falling short of the recommended five-a-day, this seems very ill-advised.
“Many parents use hummus and other dips to encourage children who are fussy eaters to enjoy vegetables and pulses and now they are being told they are in the same category as soft drinks, sweets and table sugar.
“Pulses provide useful nutrients such as manganese, copper, calcium, iron and magnesium.
“There are much easier ways, such as switching to calorie sweeteners, to reduce free sugar.”
Catherine Collins, an NHS dietitian at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust, said: “Classifying ostensibly ‘savoury foods’ for their sugar content is possible but unnecessary – and will add to the public’s confusion as to what foods are part of a healthy diet.
“As a dietitian, I have absolutely no concerns about a teaspoon of sugar present in a ready-prepared bolognese sauce, used to create a complex meal including pasta, vegetables and protein.
“It isn’t helpful or nutritionally sound to attribute a concern to a pasta sauce that might be applicable, say, to boiled sweets.”