It might surprise you to learn that you shouldn’t be getting more than 5% of your daily calories from added sugar sources. But what is ‘added sugar’, how much are you allowed, and where can you get sugar from?
How much sugar does the NHS recommend?
Sugar weighs in at 4 calories (kcal) per gram. As women are recommended to not exceed 2000kcal per day and men not to exceed 2500kcal per day, this means we should not be eating more than 30g of sugar a day to ensure that no more than 5% of our daily calories come from added sugar.
Added sugar is also known as ‘free’ sugar and refers to sugar which has been added during the production of a food or drink to enhance its taste. Your daily sugar limit doesn’t count the naturally-occurring sugars found in fruit, vegetables and dairy products.
However, it does include sugar from honey, agave, maple syrup, dried fruit and sugar-sweetened drinks, which should all be counted in your daily amount of sugar.
Children aged 7 – 10 shouldn’t exceed 24g sugar, and children aged 4 – 6 shouldn’t exceed 19g. Babies and toddlers should avoid added sugar completely.
What does this mean realistically?
Getting to know which foods and drinks are high in added sugar is the first step to helping you avoid them and stay within your 30g daily limit. There are the more obvious sources such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, pastries and sweet-tasting fizzy drinks, which should be avoided as much as possible.
30g sugar is equivalent to around 7 teaspoons, which doesn’t go a long way in sugary treats. There is 35g sugar alone in a 330ml can of cola. If you drink this with a blueberry muffin at your desk at 3pm, you’ve consumed nearly 70g sugar, already more than doubling your daily sugar limit.
Sugar combined with fat encourages us to overeat, as it increases how delicious foods taste. That’s why it can be seriously difficult to put down a packet of biscuits despite the hefty calorie count in each mouthful.
Where is added sugar hiding?
Choosing seemingly ‘healthy’ foods is increasingly difficult in today’s food landscape. Many products are marketed as healthy when they actually contain untold amounts of sugar. You’re unlikely to view breakfast cereal bars as a treat, for example, but they can contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar or biscuit. The general rule is – if it tastes too sweet to be sugar-free – then it probably isn’t!
Those of us who choose low-fat and ‘diet’ foods should be aware of the role sugar plays in these choices. Fat free yoghurts often have plenty of added sugar, meaning they’re no longer a healthy choice.
In fact, you are probably better off selecting a full fat version as this will promote a feeling of satiety (fullness) you won’t get from a fat-free, high-sugar yoghurt. Remember, lactose from milk and sucrose from fruit in a yoghurt don’t count as ‘added’ or ‘free’ sugar.
Many sauces and condiments are also high in free sugars. Just one portion of tomato-based pasta sauce can have around 10g added sugar. This means you’ve a third of your way to your daily upper limit for added sugar without even factoring in everything else you’ve eaten that day.
Get into the habit of looking at the list of ingredients on the food you eat. Whole foods such as oats, nuts, fruit and grains should only have one ingredient. Processed foods and refined grains will come with a long ingredients list – and if you see sugar in the first three or four ingredients – think twice about adding it to your regular shopping basket.
One place you can seriously cut down on added sugar is in drinks.
Fruit juice should not be cut out as it contains vital vitamins and nutrients, but you should ensure that the juice has no added sugar. Further, you should keep your portions to strictly 150ml per day, as fruit juices are much higher in calories and natural sugars than whole fruits, as sugar is released as part of the juicing process.
Last updated: 20 April 2020