The type of sugar we need to eat less of is called free sugar. Free sugar is sugar added to food or drink and found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit juices. We don’t need to worry about sugar which is naturally present in whole fruits, vegetables or milk.
Things like sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, sweet pastries, puddings and sugary drinks are high in calories, fat, sugar and/or salt. They’re low in nutritional value too, so they shouldn’t be part of a healthy diet.
How much sugar?
Free sugar should not make up more than 5% of the total calories we eat every day. The recommended maximum amount of sugar for an adult is 30g – that’s around 7 sugar cubes.
Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g (around 5 sugar cubes). Children aged from 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) of sugar.
Sugar and health
Eating and drinking too much free sugar makes it easy to take in more calories than we need. That can lead to weight gain and obesity as well as increasing the risk of health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Sugar and tooth decay
Too much sugar causes tooth decay, particularly when eaten between meals. Sugars found naturally in whole fruits are less likely to cause tooth decay but when fruit is juiced or blended the sugars are released which can then damage teeth. Fruit juice and smoothies do count towards your five a day, but limit them to one small glass (150ml) a day. Drinking fruit juice with a meal rather than on its own can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Sugar causes more damage the longer it is in contact with teeth. For example, dried fruit can stick to your teeth, so eat it as part of a meal rather than as a separate snack to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Understand the label
Pre-packaged items have colour-coded labels on the front that tell you if the item is high, medium or low in sugars, fat, saturated fat and salt. Pick products with more greens and ambers and fewer reds on the label.
For more detailed information check the nutritional information panel at the back of the packet. You’ll see the words ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ – this is the total amount of sugar in the product. This includes free sugar and the sugar naturally present in things like milk, fruit and vegetables.
The ingredient list names everything in the product and it’s always arranged so that the largest ingredient appears first. If you spot ‘sugar’ near the top of the list, that means it’s one of the main ingredients in the product.
But watch out - sugar isn’t always called sugar. Things like cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, sucrose, glucose, and nectars are all free sugars too.
What do the labels mean?
- Low sugar in food means there’s less than 5g sugars per 100g
- High sugar in food means there’s more than 22.5g sugars per 100g
- Low sugar in drinks means there’s less than 2.5g sugars per 100g
- High sugar in drinks means there’s more than 11.25g sugars per 100g