Healthy Eating
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Why You Should Avoid Free Sugars

Most of us know that we shouldn't eat too much sugar, but as a health writer, it's still amazing to me just how much sugar people eat everyday - most of the time without even realising it. So I thought I'd write a post for Health Unlocked to try and give people some more information on sugar (in particular free sugars), and the impact its having on our health in the UK.

To clarify, when I say 'free sugar' I'm talking about the different types of sugar we eat in our normal diet, not including the sugars found naturally in fruit, milk, vegetables and milk products. Basically, I'm referring to the sugar that's added to our food and drink by the manufacturers who make them.

In the last few weeks, the official recommendations on the amount of free sugars we should be ingesting each day has been changed by the SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). Their recommendation is that no more than 5% of our calorie intake each day should be free sugars, and that adults (and children over 11) shouldn't be eating more than 30g of sugar a day - that's seven teaspoons. To put that amount into perspective, a can of Coke has 39g of sugar in it.

I recently completed some research into how much sugar we're actually consuming in the UK, and put it into an infographic (if you're interested, you can see it here: and I found the results pretty shocking.

Here is the recommended amount of sugar we should be eating each day by age group, and next in brackets is the average amount that age group is consuming every day:

Children 1-4: 19g (36.1g)

Children 4-10: 24g (60.8g)

Teenagers 11-18: 30g (74.2g)

Adults 19-64: 30g (58.8g)

Adults 65+: 30g (51.6g)

That means there's not a single age group in the UK consuming anywhere near the recommended amount of sugar each day, and for most it's more than double the recommended amount.

That's seriously worrying when you consider that a high volume of daily sugar intake has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of heart disease and being overweight or obese.

Let's look at a couple of those conditions in more detail. Sugar intake has been strongly linked with the increase in Type 2 Diabetes, which has risen by 60% in the last ten years in the UK. Diabetes can lead to severe complications, including amputation - there are 700,000 people per year in the UK getting a limb amputated as a result of diabetes. If you do the math (and I have), that's 135 amputations a week.

Equally as worrying is the impact it's having on our children's teeth. If you saw Jamie Oliver's program on sugar, there was a shocking statistic that the most common reason for British primary school children to go into hospital is now for the extraction of rotten teeth under anaesthetic. I looked into this, and it turns out there are 26,000 operations a year in the UK for the extraction of rotten teeth under anaesthetic - the primary reason for this is the increase in sugar consumption.

Hopefully that gives you some insight into why you should consider cutting down on free sugars, and particularly those given to young children. Free sugars can be found in a range of products you might not expect too, so I strongly advise you get into the habit of reading the labels on things you eat, as adhering to the 30g a day recommendations is actually much, much more difficult than you might think (trust me, I've been trying!).

1 Reply

Thank you, couldn't agree with you more. As someone who is currently trying to eliminate free sugars from my diet (and finding it incredibly difficult to find anything to eat when eating out and find myself interrogating the service staff to the point of torture) - I find it very interesting you have not had one reply?

I believe there is an historical context to the rise in sugar consumption which is hardly ever mentioned but interesting to reflect upon. I was reminded of this recently.

My sister, who is obese, relayed a memory at a recent family get together - she recalled my stepmother asking my children, aged 8 and 6, if they would like some 'pop' with their meal 'no thank you, my eldest son replied, Mum only ever gives us milk or water with out meal' (said circa 1980-82).

'Yes, replied my stepmother but she isn't here so would you like some pop?'

My point is that she was a child during WW2 when food was severely rationed, especially sugar. That generation were deprived of sugar so seemed to want to make up for it by 'treating' the following generations, who like me, now suffer the consequences of a plethora of autoimmune diseases.

Unfortunately since the increase in production of beet sugar, white processed sugar became an inexpensive food ingredient - hence the overuse in processed foods - especially to make up for the removal of the so called 'bad' fats so the food tastes better. Prior to the expansion of beet sugar production cane sugar needed to be imported so was relatively expensive and therefor less used.

Does anyone else remember the Tate & Lyle silos on Liverpool docks during the 1950's?

Everything is connected to everything else and I believe we need to look at this with a wholistic lens which means looking at the economic and social conditions which apply. Most of us do not have the time (or energy) to read labels.

When you cook everything from scratch it is easy to calculate how much sugar you add - as long as you use no cans.

I believe that the major part of the problem is that as we eat out, on the go and take away and processed ready meals. In my opinion it is this market to whom a campaign needs to be targeted and educated, through taxes if necessary.

Absolutely behind J O with his campaign to get sugary, fizzy drinks taxed - works in Mexico.


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