Most people in the UK have too much sugar in their diet. While a small amount of sugar is essential for a healthy balanced diet, the NHS advises that added sugars should not exceed more that 5% of your energy (calorie) intake per day. This roughly equates to 30g of added sugars a day and children should have less than this.

Effects of sugar

The main nutritional value of sugar is to provide fast energy. However, sugar is added to a lot of foods such as sweets, chocolate, cakes and fizzy and juice drinks, along with many other foods which are less obvious. As part of a healthy balanced diet the NHS advises cutting down on these foods high in sugar as they can contribute towards tooth decay and becoming overweight.

Being overweight can become a serious problem as it increases your risk of conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Instead the NHS recommends that you should get the majority of your daily calorie intake from other sources, such as starchy foods and fruits and vegetables.

Sugary foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay, especially if they are eaten between meals. However, the sugars that are found naturally in whole fruit and milk are less likely to cause tooth decay as they are contained within the structure of the foods. However, when fruit is blended into juice, these sugars are released which can also damage teeth. To avoid tooth decay, the NHS advises that the consumption of fruit juice should be limited to one small glass a day and to swap dried fruit for fresh fruit where possible.

Ways to cut down on sugar

The NHS Choices website offers a wide range of ways to cut down on your sugar intake. It is first important to be able to recognise sugar by all of its different names on food labelling. Glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, honey, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, fructose and molasses are all alternative names for different added sugars that you will find in sugary foods and these should be avoided as much as possible.

Instead of these foods you should aim to find low sugar alternatives. Breakfast cereals are often high in sugar and by swapping these for plain cereal or a bowl of porridge you will significantly reduce your sugar intake. If toast is your breakfast of choice the NHS recommends choosing bread of a wholemeal or granary variety as these are much lower in added sugar and higher in fibre than white breads.

Many savoury foods that we don’t consider to be sweet have a surprisingly high amount of sugar in them. Ready-made soups, sauces and microwave meals are often much higher in sugar than you would think, so the NHS recommends making these things from scratch from fresh ingredients when you can. Condiments such as ketchup are also deceptively high in sugar, with some sauces containing roughly half a teaspoon a serving. Try to use these in small quantities and not every day.

Snack foods such as biscuits are often a big source of excess sugar in our diets. The NHS advises swapping sugary snacks for healthy alternatives or those of a lower calorie variety. If you don’t want to completely give up sugary treats then another way to cut down would also be to limit your intake – instead of having two biscuits, have one instead.

According to the NHS nearly a quarter of added sugar in our diets come from sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, squashes and cordials. Instead the NHs recommends swapping to healthier alternatives such as water, lower fat milks and low sugar juice options. Zero sugar and zero calorie fizzy drinks, while advertised as containing no real sugar, do contain artificial sweeteners and should not be considered as healthy alternatives.