Hannah Ebelthite is a freelance health, fitness and wellbeing writer. With nearly two decades experience in journalism, she has held staff posts on Cosmopolitan, Zest and Healthy magazines, and writes for a wide range of...

Becoming aware of exactly what sugars you’re consuming, and which foods they’re found in, will help you monitor your intake

AS A NATION, we have a sweet tooth. The average person in the UK eats the equivalent of 16tsp added sugar a day – around 15% more than the recommended limit. But how do you know how much you’re consuming?

We’ve evolved to like sugar – breast milk is sweet and foods that are safe to eat in nature usually have a sweet rather than bitter taste. The main problem is while our ancestors consumed the sugars found naturally, we’ve started adding the processed form.

‘Added sugar provides little other than calories – no fibre, protein, vitamins or minerals – so by eating it to excess, we’re displacing these valuable nutrients from our diets,’ says HFG nutritionist Juliette Kellow.

Sucrose, glucose, fructose… what’s the difference?

Sucrose (in the form of sugar cubes or table sugar) is made from sugar cane or beets

Lactose is a natural sugar that’s found in milk

Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and honey

Glucose is the type that circulates in our blood. It’s the building block for most sugars (sucrose is made up of fructose and glucose, for example) and starches, and this is what they break down to when we eat them.

The UK recommended daily intake for non-milk extrinsic sugars (basically the sugar added to food, plus sugars in honey and fruit juice) is 10% of our daily calories. So that means no more than 50g – or 13tsp – should come from the white stuff.

But I don’t take sugar in my tea!

You don’t have to be snacking on cake or drinking your tea with three sugars to be getting more than your fill. ‘A can of fizzy drink, for example, contains the equivalent of 7tsp, which is over half your daily limit in one hit,’ says Juliette. ‘And sugar sneaks into the most unlikely of foods – just try checking the label on a savoury ready meal or processed snack.’ Often so-called ‘diet’ food products, too, cut the fat but double the quantity of sugar.

Start counting

To get an idea of how much sugar you’re currently consuming, keep a food diary for a couple of weeks to track your eating habits and start scanning the ingredients list on food packaging.

‘Nutrition information often includes the amount of sugars per 100g and per serving, but this figure includes both naturally occurring and any added sugars, so you’ll need to check the ingredients list to find the amount of added sugar,’ says Juliette. ‘The best solution is to follow the general guidelines for healthy eating – which means we’ll naturally limit our added sugar intake as we fill up on nutrient-rich foods.’

So-called ‘diet’ food products often cut the fat but double the quantity of sugar