We eat too much sugar. The recommended amount of free sugars in our diet has been halved from 10% of the calories we eat to 5% or less. For adults that means no more than 30g of free sugar a day or the equivalent of seven sugar cubes.
-- What do they mean by ‘free’ sugars?
Normally, we like things that are free but not here. Free sugars are those you need to watch out for. Free sugars are two types of sugars: those that have been ‘added by a food manufacturer, cook or consumer’ (that means you) to a food and those found naturally in sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juice (even unsweetened). But free sugar doesn’t include the sugars naturally found in whole fruit and vegetables and in milk and milk products like plain yoghurt.
If you think about all the sugar added to bread, cereals, biscuits, ready-meals, cakes, drinks and all the other processed food we eat, you get to seven sugar cubes quite quickly.
-- Do many of us get below the 5% limit?
No. The report says only 13% (one in eight) of adults currently meet this 5% recommendation.
That’s probably one of the reasons why there has been such an increase in obesity. In England, for example, the percentage of obese adult men (BMI of 30 or more) rose from 13.2% in 1993 to 24.7% in 2011-13. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease as well as some cancers and other diseases.
-- How can I spot added sugars on food labels?
Words on food manufacturer labels used to describe free or added sugars include:
high fructose corn syrup
fruit juice concentrate
I’m a bit confused about milk
Some sugars called lactose occur naturally in milk. These don’t count as free sugars. But anything added, like the flavour in a milk shake or ice cream does count as free sugar.
--I’m even more confused about fruit!
Understandable. A whole fruit itself does not contain free sugar. Nor does dried fruit as the sugar is still within the fruit. But the juicing process changes this. You could say it frees the sugars up. (As a result they’re absorbed into the body in much the same way as a spoonful of sugar). So a fruit juice does contain free sugar. Easiest way to avoid the confusion is to choose whole fruit over juices or smoothies. Fruit yoghurt might include natural sugars from both milk and pieces of fruit but will include free sugars too.
-- Give me some examples
Regular 330ml cola contains 36g of sugars and ALL are free sugars.
A glass (200ml) of semi-skimmed milk includes 9.4g of sugar but NONE are free sugars (it’s all natural lactose from milk).
A 125g pot of fruit yoghurt includes, for example, 15.9g of sugar of which 11.25g are free. Why? Because the natural sugars in milk and in the fruit itself do not count. (However, this example shows that despite the natural fruit and natural milk, most of the sugars in flavoured yoghurt are actually free sugars - so watch out.)
A 160g orange includes 13.6g sugar but NONE are free sugars whereas a 150ml glass of orange juice contains 12.9g of sugar and ALL are free sugars. In other words, eat an orange and it doesn’t count toward your 5%, drink fruit juice and it does.
A 5g portion of honey includes 3.8g of sugar and ALL are free sugars even though they occur naturally in honey.
The message is read the labels very carefully.
-- Anything else?
This 5% free sugar recommendation is part of a broader set of recommendations for carbohydrate intake. (Carbs are all sugars and starches). Total carbs should provide around half our energy and should include more fibre. The report recommends an increase to 30g of fibre (from about 23-24g of fibre in the previous guidance).