Which sugars are ok to eat?
Is there a difference between ‘natural’ or ‘intrinsic’ sugar compared to ‘added’ or ‘free’ sugar?
How much are we allowed?
To begin with, it is important to establish the difference; which sugars should we be mindful of? In 2015, a new report by SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) was published stating that a high intake of ‘free’ sugars is detrimental to health and advise we limit these to 5% of our diet (these recommendations apply to age groups above 2 years).
But what are ‘free sugars’? Do these differ to those sugars we find in our carbohydrates or fruits? Quite simply, the answer is yes. This 5% figure sits within a broader set of dietary recommendations for overall carbohydrate consumption comprising all sugars and fibrous starches. Sugars are deemed ‘free’ when they are added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus those that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. These do not include the sugars that are found naturally in milk, whole fruit or vegetables as part of a whole balanced diet.
Many might believe that they don’t consume very much sugar on a day-to-day basis, but a large volume of manufactured foods contain sugar; they just might be listed in a different way! For example, food labels may contain the more obvious giveaways of sugar; glucose, sucrose or maple syrup, yet others may contain labels such as hydrolysed starch, molasses, maltose the list goes on! I don’t know about you, but if I wasn’t a nutritionist, I wouldn’t recognise any of these!
So what does 5% look like?
- children (aged 4 to 6) is 19g, equal to 5 cubes or 5 tsp of sugar*
- children aged (7 to 10) is 24g, equal to 6 cubes or 6 tsp of sugar*
- children (over 11) and adults is 30g, equal to 7 cubes or 7 tsp of sugar*
Having conducted a workshop with teenage girls recently, I spoke to them about sugar and limited the recommendations down to their age group. I then asked who thought they had exceeded that recommendation so far that day. Most, if not all of the girls put their hands up. It was 11am.
It is extremely important that the sugar message is passed on to everybody, but especially those younger generations where sugar may be routinely indulged in food or beverage forms. Frequent intakes will contribute to childhood and adolescent obesity as well as tooth decay and negative health consequences in later life.
*Nhs.uk, (2016). Let’s get Sugar Smart! Available at: httpss://www.nhs.uk/change4life-beta/campaigns/sugar-smart/home