Sugars are simple carbohydrates (see our previous post on carbs to refresh your memory) and occur naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables. These are sometimes referred to as ‘intrinsic sugars’ as they exist in the cells of whole fruit and vegetables.
There are also sugars which aren’t found in cells and in a free state which are usually added to food or drink. These are sometimes called ‘non-milk extrinsic sugars’ or NMES, and examples include:
- table sugar (white and brown)
Why all the fuss?
The sugar tax is still hitting the headlines – with Philip Hammond announcing details of the new tax in his budget statement from March this year.
Tax on drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml will be levied by 18p per litre, while those with eight grams or more of sugar per 100ml will have an extra tax of 24p per litre.
The reason for this is to tackle the growing problem of obesity. The types of food and drink that contain added sugars are not very nutritious and are often high in calories which, as we know, can lead to weight gain if overeating. If this becomes a habit, it can lead to obesity which can, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes – a condition which causes high blood sugar levels and health problems in the long-term, the most common being loss of vision.
Sadly, health complications related to sugar do not end there. Tooth decay is another major problem, with fruit juices and dried fruit being the main culprits. The issue of tooth decay was famously covered in Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush program which claimed that each year 26,000 children require hospital treatment because of rotten teeth, costing the NHS £30m a year.
As part of a healthy balanced diet, an adult’s reference intake for total sugars in a day is 90g. Government guidelines recommend a maximum of 30g of added sugars each day – about 7 sugar cubes or teaspoons.
Children should have even lower amounts – less than 19g a day for those aged 4 to 6, and no more than 24g for 7 to 10-year-olds.
Tips on reducing sugar intake
- Opt for freshly squeezed fruit juices instead of sweetened ones.
- Limit fruit juices or smoothies to 150ml a day. If buying off the shelf, check the amount of liquid contained in the product and if it’s much more than 150ml, consume it over 2 days. Not only will this be better for your health, it’ll also save you money!
- Sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate are notorious for high sugar content. Save these for special occasions only.
- Try halving the amount of sugar you add to your cup (or cups) of tea or coffee. Once you start getting used to the taste, gradually reduce the amount of sugar even more.
- Avoid breakfast cereals coated with sugar or honey – you have more control by adding these yourself.
- Check food packaging labels. If you see red for sugars, it’s probably best to look for an alternative.
- Know your numbers. A teaspoon of sugar is generally considered to be 4 grams. A quick supermarket search revealed that a typical 330ml can of cola contains 35 grams of sugar. That’s almost 9 teaspoons! Would you really put that many in your cuppa?
- Sugars can be disguised under several names: fructose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, crystalline sucrose, nectars. Look out for these on food labels and if they appear near the start of the ingredients list, the food or drink is likely to be high in added sugars.
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