Facts About Sugar


There is lots of evidence to suggest that free sugars are one of the biggest culprits in the obesity epidemic and related health issues. However, understanding sugar and what sugar is good and not so good for us can be confusing. So lets dig deeper and look at some facts.

What are free sugars?

Free sugars are the type of sugars that most adults and children in the UK consume too much of. These include:

  • Any sugars added to food or drinks. These include sugars in biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks. These sugars may be added at home, by a chef or other food manufacturers. 
  • Sugars in honey, syrups (such as maple, agave and golden), nectars (such as blossom), and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies. The sugars in these foods occur naturally but still count as free sugars

What about sugar in fruit, veg and milk?

Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables doesn't count as free sugars. We don't need to cut down on these sugars, but be aware they are included in the "total sugar" figure found on food labels...why don't they separate free sugar and sugar on the food labels? Very good question. It would certainly help us out wouldn't it! 

How to spot sugar on a food label

Look for the "Carbohydrates of which sugars" figure on the nutrition label. This describes the the total amount of sugar from all sources. For example, plain yoghurt may contain as much as 8g per serving, but none of these are free sugars, as they all come from milk. An apple would be the same, it may have 11g of total sugar (depending on the size and how ripe it is) but it's still not considered free sugars unless is it juiced or puréed. 

So food containing fruit or milk are healthier choices than ones containing lots of free sugars, even if the two products contain the same total amount of sugar. 

What is considered high and low when it comes to sugar?

The total sugar considered to either be high or low fall above or below the following thresholds:

  • high: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • low: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g

If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, that is a medium level.

If in doubt, check the ingredients list

The way in which ingredients are listed has a meaning. The first ingredient listed is what the majority of that product contains. For instance, a pack of sausages may state...

Pork (85%), Water, Free Range Egg White, Sea Salt, Rice Flour, Chickpea Flour, Sugar, etc

The first ingredient here is pork which means the majority of this product contains pork, sometimes they will even list the percentage. Anything listed in bold is an allergen. 

Free sugar can also be seen in many forms on the ingredients list so as well as 'sugar' look out for things such as; cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate/purées, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose, crystalline sucrose, nectars (such as blossom), maple and agave syrups, dextrose, maltose, molasses and treacle.

How often should we eat free sugar?

The WHO (the World Health Organisation, not the English band from the 60's) recommends that no more than 10% of our diets should be made up of free sugar, a further reduction to 5% or 25g a day would provide additional health benefits. 

I think it's important to note that you can still enjoy the occasional sweet indulgence, it is possible to have a healthy balanced diet and have a dessert from time to time. Just be mindful of how often you are eating it, you can do this by keeping a food diary or using an app to track what you are eating. Or even better, make your own healthy sweet treats (there is lots of inspo on Pinterest!) then you are in control of how much sugar you use, winner :)