What is sugar?
There are two types of sugar. Firstly, there is naturally occurring sugar which is found in a range of different foods such as milk (lactose) and fruit and honey (fructose). Secondly, there are 'free' sugars such as refined table sugar (sucrose), concentrated fruit juice, syrups, sweets, cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks. It is these ‘free’ sugars that we should keep to a minimum, (1).
How much should we be consuming?
The latest recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK's official nutrition guidelines are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should comprise added or 'free' sugars. For adults this equates to approximately seven sugar cubes (30g) per day. For children aged 4-6, the recommendation is no more than 19g per day (five sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (six sugar cubes) for children aged 7-10, (1) (2).
The reality of labels
Be wary of low sugar / sugar-free foods and drinks, as these can contain:
- Fructose (fruit sugar)
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, saccharin and aspartame)
Be mindful of all processed foods and low fat ‘diet foods’ - always check the label for sugar content.
When looking at an ingredient list, the nearer the beginning of the list sugar appears, the more sugar that particular food will contain.
Also check the “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” which will tell you how much sugar a product contains per 100g (3):
- High = more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
- Low = 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
Tips to reduce sugar
- Remove it from the table - if it’s not within easy reach, you won’t be tempted to add it to anything! Likewise, don’t buy sweetened goods or snacks. If you don’t have it on the shelf, you won’t eat it!
- Gradually decrease the amount of sugar in tea and coffee - try reducing it by ½ teaspoon per week to enable you to get used to the change in taste.
- Replace refined white sugar with natural alternatives - xylitol, honey, coconut sugar. (NOTE: these alternatives are still a form of sugar and should therefore be used sparingly. Try experimenting with other ingredients to replace sugar - e.g. a sprinkling of cinnamon in coffee, grated apple in porridge).
- Avoid fizzy drinks which are full of sugar. Instead try making your own flavoured water - slices of orange, lemon, lime, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mint and even cucumber add great flavour. (NOTE: have no more than one small glass of fruit juice per day to minimise fructose intake).
- Change sweet snacks to something with more nutritional benefit - e.g. a handful of unsalted almonds, a small natural yoghurt with a handful of berries, a small packet of oatcakes.
- Minimise refined, starchy carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice which can rapidly turn into sugar in the blood. Instead, use wholegrain versions and also beans, lentils and quinoa, (4)
- Reduce the sugar content while baking - keep sweet treats to a minimum and where possible, use dates, homemade fruit puree, or a very small amount of honey as a substitute for sugar. Also consider vanilla pods and cinnamon to add flavour without the sweetness, (5).
(1) NHS Choices (2017). How Does Sugar in Our Diet Affect Our Health? Available at:
(2) World Health Organisation, (2015). Sugars Intake For Adults & Children. Available at:
(3) NHS Choices (2017). How Much Sugar is Good For Me? Available at:
(4) Bailey, C and Schenker, S (2016). ‘7 Principles For Low-Carb Mediterranean-Style Eating’ in The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet. London: Short Books, p12-13.
(5) Bailey, C and Schenker, S (2016). ‘Occasional Treats’ in The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet. London: Short Books, p178-195.