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Sugar- how much is too much?

It’s possibly the biggest health topic of recent years. So here’s what you need to know about sugar intake…


Is there such a thing as good sugar? The answer is a resounding no. Whether you’re spooning the white granulated into your tea, scattering a bit of Demerara on your porridge, spreading honey on your toast or drizzling agave nectar on your yogurt, they all have one thing in common – empty calories and free sugar.

So, what is ‘free sugar’?

Sally Norton, a UK Leading Health Expert, NHS Weight Loss Surgeon, and founder of explains. Free sugars are the added sugars we have in our diet.  That’s not just the spoonfuls of white stuff we ladle into cups of tea or sprinkle over cereal. It includes:

  •  Sugars added to foods and drink by the manufacturer, cook or consumer.
  •  Sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.  So when you read ‘natural fruit sugar’, ‘only nature’s own sugar added’, ‘sweetened only with honey’, ‘sweetened with apple juice’ and countless others, don’t be fooled for a second – think sugar!

The only sugars not included in the term ‘free sugar’ are those found naturally in whole fruit and vegetables and in milk. There is no evidence to suggest that these sugars are associated with any harmful effects – and the benefits of having plenty of fruit, vegetables and milk are likely to far outweigh any possible adverse effects of the sugar they contain. (However, be aware – some fruits can be very high in sugar).

How much sugar is too much?

Taking the rough calculation of 2000kcals per day as the amount of energy we need from our food and drink, and we aim for just 5% of our calorie intake from free sugar, we are talking only 6 teaspoons worth (30g).

This may sound like quite a lot, but put it into context it becomes easy to see just how much sugar is crammed into some everyday products.   A can of coke or a large glass of orange juice contains 50% more than the ideal daily intake – around 9 teaspoons of sugar!  A bowl of cereal can contain over 3 teaspoons, a shop bought sandwich may contain a teaspoon or more and even a can of soup contains 5 teaspoons. It soon adds up! Flavoured waters can contain 3-4 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. Even a 200ml glass of orange juice contains 5 teaspoons of sugar – and some smoothies can contain many more. Just because it is called ‘natural fruit sugar’ doesn’t mean it is any more healthy!

That’s just drinks – what about hidden sugars in other products? 80% of processed food contains hidden sugar.

Artificial sweeteners – friend or foe?

Is replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners the answer?  Whilst they may possibly be healthier than sugar we do not really know the long term effects of sweeteners in increased amounts, nor do they reduce our desire for a sugar fix. Instead, reducing our sweet tooth overall – with government and industry working as one to do this, as was the case with salt. Slowly reducing our need for intense sweetness, without really noticing, and without the use of chemical sweeteners is the best option. 

What can be done to reduce sugar intake?

Aside from telling consumers to eat less sugar, foods need to be reformulated to contain less sugar, advice needs to be given on cutting portion size and advertising rules need tightening for products aimed at both adults and children.

In the home cut back on sugar gradually. Using a natural sweetener such as stevia can help provide sweetness in many foods while reducing free sugar. Restricting fruit juice to a small glass and diluting with water. Try to eat fruit in their whole form rather than as a smoothie when you need a sweet fix. Restrict sweet treats such as cakes and chocolate to a few times a week, not as part of the daily diet.


Sally established the ‘Vavista Eat Better, Live Better, Work Better Awards‘ – which offers a free endorsement and clear logo for products which offer a healthier choice within their category. There are thousands of brands both big and small who are recognising not only their health responsibilities to the nation but the profitability of riding on the rising health awareness in the UK. 



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