Spanish initiative uses photography to show how major brands sweeten their products

A Danone 0% fruit yogurt contains four cubes of sugar; a 200ml carton of Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona’s tomato sauce, even more. A 50g helping of Kellogg’s cereals has four-and-a-half, while a Starbucks Mocca Blanco Venti with cream and chocolate syrup comes in at a whopping 20 cubes

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming a quarter of the average amount of sugar that is consumed in Europe, which would take us down to 25g a day. But we are rarely aware of the amount of sugar we are putting into our bodies. Either we don’t read the labels, or we don’t understand them, despite the fact that sugar can be addictive and too much of it can lead to diabetes, obesity, dental problems and heart disease.

This general lack of awareness prompted Spanish photographer and healthy-eating advocate Antonio Rodríguez Estrada to set up SinAzúcar.org, an initiative that publishes photos of products along with their sugar content alongside them, measured in an easily understood unit: the cube.

“One of the reasons we have an obesity epidemic is the amount of processed food in our daily diet,” explains Rodríguez Estrada. “SinAzúcar.org is trying to make the hidden sugar in these processed foods visible in a simple and graphic way that can be easily shared on the social networks. It’s my grain of sand to help improve consumer habits.”

Although the US website Sugar Stacks or the Instagram account @dealerdesucre have been drawing attention to the problem for some time, Rodríguez Estrada’s initiative focuses on Spanish products while the glossiness of his photos deliberately imitates a promotional style. “The food industry seduces the consumer by dressing their products up in gloss,” says Rodríguez Estrada, who has just completed his studies in sports nutrition at the Spanish Institute of Health and Nutrition Sciences. “If we want to fight this kind of marketing, we have to use the same weapons they do and create attractive images that get the message across effectively.”

Rodríguez Estrada started by publishing photos of products loaded with sugar, such as fizzy drinks, but he soon switched to photos of products with surprising amounts of sugar, such as tomato sauce or baby food. In fact, he has decided to make a point of drawing attention to the sugar content in foods people believe are “safe,” due to the fact they are marketed as healthy, carry the 0% sign, or have been endorsed by medical corporations with questionable scruples.

To calculate the amount of sugar in each product, Rodríguez Estrada refers to the information on the label. When it comes to more generic foodstuffs such as sliced bread, cheesecake, chocolate donuts or sweets, he uses one brand as a reference. Each of his sugar cubes weighs 4g.

So now we have Rodríguez Estrada’s images to make us think twice about offering our children an energy drink, cookies or cereals; but why should we need someone like him to point it out? In short, how have we grown so ignorant of the amount of sugar in our food?

“One of the results of sugar abuse is that the sweetness threshold for our taste-buds rises,” says Rodríguez Estrada. “For food to taste good, we need more and more of it. If we get used to sugary yogurts, milkshakes and drinks at an early age, by the time we’re adults, a cup of coffee containing 20 cubes of sugar tastes delicious.”

SinAzúcar has been welcomed on social media sites by a number of dieticians and nutritionists, but Rodríguez Estrada hasn’t heard a word from the companies behind the products he has photographed. “None of them have contacted me so far,” he says, before adding wryly, “But every time I go to Starbucks I notice I get dirty looks…”