Spotlight on sugar

Whether it’s white, brown, unrefined sugar, molasses or honey, don’t kid yourself: there is no such thing as a healthy sugar…

The role of sugar in the diet continues to dominate headlines. Did you know that the type of sugars most adults and children in the UK eat too much of and need to cut down on are ‘free sugars’? Do you know what a ‘free sugar’ is? Find out more…

Sugar basics

Most foods contain several different types of sugar.  Foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk contain sugar within their structure (sometimes called intrinsic sugars), but as these foods contain a lot of useful nutrients, you don’t need to cut down on them. Most people need to cut down on free sugars. These are the sugars found in your food that aren’t contained within the structure of the food.Here are some common foods that contain the free sugars that you should try to avoid:

  • Sugar sweetened drinks (fizzy drinks): All of the sugars are likely to be added free sugars
  • Cakes, puddings, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, honey, syrup, jams, spreads: All or most of the sugars are likely to be added free sugars
  • Breakfast cereals: Some may have sugars from added dried fruit, but all or most of the sugars are likely to be added free sugars
  • Fruit juice, smoothies: All of the sugars are free sugars, released from the fruit during juicing
  • Fruit yogurt or fromage frais: The sugars are a mix of added free sugars (about two thirds) and sugars from the fruit and milk (about one third)

Healthier choices:

  • Plain or ‘diet’ fruit yogurt, no added sugar: The sugars are from milk and whole fruit so these are not free sugars so can be enjoyed.
  • Fruit or fresh fruit salad: The sugar is found within the structure of the fruit – enjoy!
Cutting down on sugar
Reading the labels on your food can help you work out how much sugar you’re eating. Many food labels list total sugars rather than free sugars so it can be tricky to work out what type of sugars you’re eating. Watch out for the following names for sugars that can be used on food labels which suggest there are added free sugars in the product:

  • cane juice, sugar, or crystals
  • honey
  • dextrose or dextrin
  • fructose or fruit juice concentrate
  • glucose
  • sucrose
  • sugar (palm, raw, beet, brown, invert)
  • syrup (corn, maple, rice, barley, malt)
  • treacle
  • xylose
  • Remove sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses from the breakfast table — out of sight, out of mind!
  • Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
  • Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, add fresh fruit (try bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
  • Instead of having sweetened yoghurt, have plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit or dried fruit
  • When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
  • Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
  • Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar; try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Buy sugar-free or low-calorie drinks.
  • Compare the sugar content of different foods and choose the lower sugar and calorie option.
  • Sauces and condiments such as ketchup, HP sauce, pickles and mayonnaise can be as much as 30 per cent sugar, while sweet chilli sauce can be up to a whopping 70 per cent sugar. Try to cut down by using low-sugar or sugar-free alternatives such as a tomato-based pasta sauce instead of ketchup, pesto, harissa or plain mustard instead of pickles, or houmous instead of mayonnaise.
  • Salad dressing can be another source of hidden sugar. Try the classic combination of a good virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar (this often contains sugar too, so check the label), or olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Sprinkle on some dried or fresh herbs for added flavour.
  • Use FoodSwitch UK an award-winning free smartphone app, to help you find food and drink products with less sugar.