In July 2015 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of scientist who advise the government, published a report on dietary carbohydrates (including sugar) and health and recommended an intake of no more than 5% of dietary energy as sugar. So I am starting this article with a run down of what this actually means. Then I will talk about foods to watch out for that contain a lot of sugar.
What does it mean ‘5% of dietary energy as sugar’? 5% of a person daily allowance of 2000kcal (often considered to be an average amount) is 25g. SACN also recommended that adults should consume no more than 30g of sugar per day. How much is 25g in lay terms? This is about 6 sugar cubes or teaspoons (or 7 teaspoons in 30g). What do they mean by sugar? They mean ‘free sugars’ that is sugar in unsweetened fruit juice, honey and syrups and the table sugar we add to food and drinks and that is added to many foods. What is excluded? Sugar found naturally in milk and sugar naturally present in whole fruit and vegetables. Why did they recommend this? Because of the link between sugar intake and tooth decay and drinks containing added sugar with type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
Which foods and drinks which contain a lot of sugar?
Sugar is in many different foods. It is naturally present in milk, fruit and vegetables and this isn’t a problem. But it is added to many processed foods, mainly as it makes things taste better. These can be foods that we would not consider to be ‘sweet’ such as soups, baked beans, sushi, ready meals, and sandwiches. Then there are the obviously sugary foods like sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and canned drinks. Being aware of the sugar in foods is one step towards reducing your intake. So which foods should you be aware of that contain a lot of sugar?
- Drinks. Many soft drinks contain a lot of sugar, particularly the fizzy ones. Or you may add sugar to your tea and coffee, which can easily mount up over the day. Even fruit juices with ‘no added sugar’ are a way of putting a lot of ‘free sugars’ into your diet.
- Chocolate. Particularly milk chocolate, but also dark chocolate, both contain quite a lot of sugar, that is why this is a food that it is best to eat in moderation (but as many of us know this is harder to do than it sounds).
- Biscuits. Lots of sugar goes into the average biscuit, and often chocolate too. One or two biscuits are okay, the problem is that biscuits are so moreish we often eat more than 2.
- Cake. Cake comes in many guises, some are seen as more healthy, such as the flapjack, but shop-bought versions can contain an eye watering amount of sugar. Eating regular cakes of any sort can add a lot of sugar to your diet.
- Cereal bars. Beware the cereal bar, as like the flapjack, it is seen as ‘healthy’ but it is very difficult to find one which has not got lots of sugar in it.
- Ready-meals. Best avoided in my opinion, but on the odd occasion you eat one, you may choose the one that is ‘low-fat’ but this often means it has more sugar than you would expect. This is a good reason for cooking, because you know what goes into it.
- Breakfast cereals. Some of the whole-grain versions are ‘sugar free’ but most have some sugar added. So even if you don’t add it yourself you are still getting sugar as part of your breakfast. Check the box.
- Alcohol. This can be a big source of sugar if you are drinking cocktails, alcopops, or anything with sugary mixers in, but alcoholic drinks themselves such as wine, spirits, and beer have relatively small amounts of sugar.
Next time: what to replace sugary foods with.
Thanks for reading,
Have a good weekend,
‘SACN’s sugars and health recommendations: why 5%?’, Public Health England, July 2015, accessed 10/3/16 at:
‘How much sugar is in your alcohol’, The Telegraph website, accessed 10/3/16 at: