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: shadestation.co.uk/Sugar-Is... 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!).

Apologies if you see this post twice, I tried to publish it previously and my internet connection decided to drop out!

3 Replies

  • I would be interested in your views on whether sugars from pure Fruit Juices and Smoothies fall into the category of "free sugars". Also whether recent reports on health issues related to these should be wider known or discredited?


  • You have hit on one of my soapboxes. The one product that threw me was peanut butter- sugar is nearly always added, even in brands that claim to be "natural". That's false labeling, as far as I'm concerned. I had bought a book a couple years ago called "Salt, Sugar, Fat" by Michael Ross. He does a great job of showing how food manufacturers carefully balance those 3 ingredients to keep you coming back for more with no regard for the health issues they cause.

    Another to watch for is yogurt- I pinned an article I ran across just recently about someone saying that the food processors have taken what was a perfectly good food to start with and turned it into junk with added sugar- projectbodysmart.com/report...

  • Hi,

    When you say that new recommendations state that sugar should be 30g a day for an adult, does that include sugar from fruits, milk, starches, etc or is this just free sugars? I'm tracking my sugar intake and it's at 52g but that's because I ate 3 apples over the course of the day.

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