Free sugars are sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer and/or consumer e.g. adding sugar to your tea/coffee as well fruit juices syrups and honey. So, don’t be fooled in thinking that ‘free’ sugars means that a product is sugar-free.
Sugars found in fruit and milk products are NOT considered free sugars as they are naturally present in food.
The total amount of sugars on a food label includes both natural and added sugars. This makes it difficult to understand how much free sugars are in the product. However, if sugar is listed at the beginning of the ingredient list it is a good indicator that the product is high in free sugars. Be mindful as there are 61 different names used for sugar on food labels including high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, cane sugar maltose, golden syrup, ethyl maltol, sorbitol and agave nectar. The following information will help you to understand products that are low and high in sugar.
>22.5g per 100g is a HIGH sugar containing food
<5g per 100g is a LOW sugar containing food
Table 1 highlights the World Health Organisation’s maximum recommendations for women, men and children (these are not targets, they are guidelines!).
It is very important that we become more aware of our free sugar consumption as findings from the National Adult Nutritional Survey in 2011 found that Irish adults were consuming 4.6% more than the recommended guideline. The National Pre-school Nutrition Survey 2012 in Ireland found that pre-school children were also consuming high amounts of free sugar, mainly coming from liquid sugars such as fruit juices and treat foods. Table 2 and 3 highlights the sugar found in popular fruit juices and treat foods consumed by children.
One teaspoon of sugar is 4g, so you can use this information to calculate how much sugar is in a product. One can of Coca-Cola contains 28g of sugar, which equates to 7 teaspoons of sugar! This equals the entire daily allowance without even considering other sugar sources!
Top tip: Add a low sugar cordial to sparkling water as an alternative to high sugar drinks.
Excess free sugar in the diet contributes to tooth decay and is a major contributor to weight gain and the development of chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is important to be mindful about the sugar content in foods. A survey in England (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-change4life-campaign-encourages-parents-to-be-food-smart) found that at breakfast time children are consuming half of their recommended sugar intake from cereals, spreads and drinks. We have created a table for you (Table 3) that identifies the sugar content of some popular breakfast cereals. You will see that there is a significant difference between the high sugar content of the cereals marketed for children and the lower sugar content of the healthy options including Weetabix and porridge oats. It is a good idea to stick with the latter!