The Not-So-Sweet Facts
It’s hard to resist the sweet taste of sugar. However, you may not realise just how much sugar you’re eating because sugar is added to so many foods and beverages. It is estimated that all age groups in the UK consume more than twice their daily recommended limit of free sugars, which include added sugars. Consuming too many added sugars is linked to serious health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.
Are you eating too many added sugars? Learning more about the extra sugars in your diet can help you improve your overall health. Cutting down on extra sugar reduces your intake of the empty and mostly extra calories that added sugars provide.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a common food ingredient and one type of carbohydrate. In addition to providing a sweet flavour, sugar performs a variety of functions in foods, such as adding texture and facilitating baking. Although sucrose, the white sugar placed in sugar bowls, is its most familiar type, sugar actually comes in many forms—including fructose, glucose, lactose, and maple syrup—to name a few. Sugar contains approximately 4 calories per gram. One teaspoon of sugar contains about 4 grams (about 16 calories) of sugar. A sugar cube also contains about 4 grams of sugar.
models and sugar test tubes to compare the sugar content of 10 foods.
What’s the Difference Between Natural and Added Sugars?
Sugars that are naturally occurring in unprocessed foods are called natural sugars. Fruits, vegetables, milk, and some grains all contain natural sugars. Foods with natural sugars tend to have a high nutritional value and are often good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. For example, fresh fruit and veg contain natural sugars, but they also contain fibre and other important nutrients.
Free sugars are the type of sugars that most of us are consuming in excess. A large proportion of free sugars are added sugars. Added sugars refer to the sugars that are added to foods during processing or preparation, such as the sugars in fizzy drinks and chocolate, or the sugar we spoon on breakfast cereal. Free sugars also include the sugars in honey, syrups (such as maple or golden syrup), nectars, and even unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies. Although the sugars in these foods occur naturally, their sugars are considered free sugars because they contain sugars that have been released from their cells. For example, a whole apple includes fibre, but when the structure of the apple is broken down, the sugar in the apple is released, and the fibre content is lost. A glass of apple juice provides more sugar than you would consume in an apple, and the apple juice doesn’t contain fibre .
Even though our bodies process natural and free sugars in the same way, free sugars tend to provide extra calories but little or no healthy nutritional value. Cola, for example, is full of added sugars, but it has no nutritional value in the form of fibre or essential vitamins and minerals.
the added sugars in cola can pack on extra weight.
Some foods, like chocolate milk, contain both natural and added sugars. Milk contains a natural sugar called lactose. To make chocolate milk, sugar is added along with the chocolate flavouring to make it sweeter. Both milk and chocolate milk have nutritional value because they contain calcium, vitamin D, and protein. The added sugars in chocolate milk, however, add only additional calories, not additional vitamins or minerals.
Are Added Sugars Needed in the Diet?
Your body doesn’t need added sugars to function properly. You can get carbohydrates and calories in foods without added sugars that provide more of the nutrients you need. To meet your nutritional needs for optimal health, focus on eating healthy foods without large amounts of added sugars and limiting the foods you eat that contain added sugars.
with sugar to compare the hidden sugars in 10 common foods.
What Foods Are High in Added Sugars?
More than a quarter of our added sugar intake comes from table sugar, jams, spreads, chocolate, and other sweets. Another quarter comes from non-alcoholic drinks, such as cola. Other popular items high in added sugars include baked goods, such as biscuits and cakes, alcoholic drinks, yoghurt, and dairy desserts.
sugar-filled beverage models to depict how much sugar is in popular drinks.
How Much Added Sugar Is Too Much?
According to government recommendations, intake of free sugars should be limited to no more than 5 percent of your daily calorie intake. For adults, this limit calculates to no more than 30 grams (about 7 sugar cubes) of free sugars per day. Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24 grams (about 6 sugar cubes) of free sugars per day, and children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19 grams (5 sugar cubes) of free sugars per day. Children under the age of 4 should avoid food and drinks with added sugars.
When you consider that a can of regular cola may contain as much as 9 cubes of sugar, you can see how quickly added sugars add up! It is estimated that children in the UK are actually consuming about 52 grams (13 cubes) of sugar each day.
to demonstrate the empty calories in cola.
How Can I Reduce My Intake of Added Sugars?
The best way to cut down on added sugars is to consume fewer foods that contain added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, and dairy desserts. Make these foods only occasional treats.
When purchasing packaged foods, check nutrition labels to make choices lower in sugars. A food is considered high in sugars if it contains more than 22.5 grams of total sugars per 100 grams. A food is considered low in sugars if it contains 5 grams of total sugars or less per 100 grams. Some nutrition labels appear on the front of food labels using the red, amber, and green colour-coding system. Look for labels with sugars in green for low.
You should also check the ingredient list on packaged food. If sugar is one of the first ingredients listed, the food is probably high in added sugars. Be aware, however, that added sugars go by many names. Ingredients that end in “ose,” such as fructose, dextrose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose, are often added sugars. Some other added sugars include corn sugar, levulose, and molasses.
What Are Some Other Tips to Reduce Added Sugars?
- Buy fresh fruit for snacks instead of foods high in added sugars, such as baked goods.
- Choose fresh fruits or canned fruits packed in water instead of packed in syrup.
- Use fruit to sweeten cereal instead of table sugar.
- Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes when baking.
- Use spices and herbs to add sweetness instead of sugar.
- Drink water or 100 percent fruit juice instead of sugary fizzy drinks or fruit-flavoured drinks.
Talk with your GP, a dietitian, or other healthcare professional if you have any questions about the added sugars in your diet.
To learn more about our nutrition education resources that teach about added sugars and other essential nutrition concepts, please visit our Nutrition Section.
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