Most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar. We should all be trying to eat fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drink fewer soft drinks.
Different types of sugar
Sugars occur naturally in food such as fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of sugars. It is food containing added sugars that we should be cutting down on.
Sugar is added to many types of food, such as:
- fizzy drinks and juice drinks
- sweets and biscuits
- cakes, pastries and puddings
- ice cream
Sugary foods and drinks can cause tooth decay, particularly if you have them between meals. This includes fruit juice and honey.
The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugars are contained within the structure of the fruit. But, when fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, much like added sugars, especially if fruit juice is drunk frequently.
Fruit juice is still a healthy choice, and counts as one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables we should be having every day, but it is best to drink fruit juice at mealtimes.
Tips for cutting down
It's a good idea to try to cut down on foods and drinks that contain lots of added sugar, such as sugary fizzy drinks, sweets and some biscuits. This will help to keep our teeth healthy. Many foods that contain added sugar can also contain lots of calories so eating less of these foods may help with weight control.
If you are trying to cut down on sugar, these tips might help you cut down:
- Have fewer sugary drinks and snacks.
- Instead of sugary fizzy drinks and juice drinks, go for water or unsweetened fruit juice (remember to dilute these for children). If you like fizzy drinks then try diluting fruit juice with sparkling water.
- Instead of cakes or biscuits, try having a currant bun, scone or some malt loaf with low-fat spread.
- If you take sugar in hot drinks, or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether.
- Rather than spreading jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle or honey on your toast, try a low-fat spread, sliced banana, or low-fat cream cheese instead.
- Check food labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar or go for the low-sugar version.
- Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes. It works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
- Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
- Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals rather than those coated with sugar or honey.
Checking food labels
When you are checking food labels, you can use the following as a guide to work out if a food is high or low in sugar.
Look for the 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)' figure in the nutrition information panel. The panel is usually found on the back of food packs.
High is more than 15g sugars per 100g
Low is 5g sugars or less per 100g
If the amount of sugars per 100g is in between these figures, then that is a medium level of sugars.
Remember that the amount you eat of a particular food affects the overall amount of sugars you will get from it.
The sugars figure in a nutrition panel is the amount of total sugars in the food. It includes sugars from fruit and milk as well as the sugars that have been added to the food.
So a product containing lots of fruit or milk will be a healthier choice than one that contains lots of added sugars, even if the two products contain similar amounts of total sugars. You can tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list (see below).
Sometimes you will only see a figure for 'Carbohydrates', and not for 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)'. The 'Carbohydrates' figure will also include starchy carbohydrates so you can’t use it to work out if a food contains a high, medium or low amount of sugars. But you can still check the ingredients list to get a feel for whether the food is high in added sugars.
Traffic light labelling
Some foods have traffic light labels on the front of the pack. This means you can see at-a-glance if the food you're looking at has high, medium or low amounts of sugars in 100g of the food.
Red = High
Amber = Medium
Green = Low
More on traffic light labelling, including an up-to-date list of retailers and manufacturers using it on their products
You can get a feel for whether a product is high in added sugars by looking at the ingredients list.
Added sugars must be included in the ingredients list, which always starts with the biggest ingredient first. Watch out for other words that are used to describe added sugars, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey. If you see one of these near the top of the list, you know that the product is likely to be high in added sugars.
Some foods that you might not expect to have sugar added to them can contain lots, for example some breakfast cereals and cereal bars. Other foods can be higher in added sugar than you might expect, such as tins of spaghetti or baked beans.
Keeping teeth healthy
To help keep teeth healthy, as well as brushing teeth regularly and visiting the dentist, we should cut down on added sugars. These are the sugars found in fizzy drinks, juice drinks, sweets, cakes and jam. It's best to stick to having these kinds of foods and drinks at mealtimes.
It's also important to avoid sipping sugary drinks or sucking sweets too often. This is because the longer the sugar touches your teeth, the more damage it can do.