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From cola, chocolate and ketchup to beer, yoghurt and soup, find out where most of the added sugar in our diet lurks.
"Added sugar" such as sucrose, hydrolysed starch and honey should not make up more than 10% of the total calories we get from food and drink each day.
This is around 70g for men (10 teaspoons) and 50g for women (eight teaspoons), but varies depending on your size, age and how active you are.
But the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (PDF, 1.55Mb) reveals Britons are having far too much, especially children aged 11 to 18 years – 15% of their daily calories are from added sugar.
Examples of sugars on food labels:
"Sugar is sugar," says dietitian Catherine Collins. "Whether it's white, brown, unrefined sugar, molasses or honey, don't kid yourself: there is no such thing as a healthy sugar.
"Refined sugars offer no nutritional value. Our bodies don't need it and it is a source of completely unnecessary calories."
Katharine Jenner, nutritionist and campaign director of campaign group Action on Sugar, says: "The sugar we add to our food accounts for a tiny fraction of the added sugar we eat. To really make a difference to our diets, we need to reduce the sugar we get from processed foods.
"The problem is checking for sugar on food labels can be confusing for shoppers as it comes in many different forms. These can be listed separately, but add up."
If you want to cut down on sugar, get used to reading food labels, comparing products and choosing lower sugar or sugar-free versions.
Below are the six main sources of added sugar in the British diet according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, with examples of some of the main sweet offenders.
Up to 27% of our daily intake of added sugar
Choc horror! Britons have a sweet tooth. A large chunk of the added sugar in our daily diet (up to 27%) comes from table sugar, jams, chocolate and sweets, with chocolate regularly voted Britain's favourite sweet treat. Sugar intake is highest among children aged 11 to 18 years.
But there are lower sugar alternatives, says Collins. "Feel a chocolate craving coming on? Then have a banana instead," she says. "The sweet taste and mouth-feel is similar to that of chocolate. Failing that, when it comes to chocolate, the smaller the portion, the better."
Try dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or above, which usually contains less sugar than plain or milk chocolate.
25% of our daily intake of added sugar
Perhaps the most surprising source, nearly a quarter (25%) of the added sugar in our diet comes from soft drinks, fruit juice and other non-alcoholic drinks.
The levels are even higher among children aged 11 to 18 years, who get 40% of their added sugar from drinks – mainly soft drinks, such as cola. "Most fizzy drinks are basically refined sugar with water and flavouring," says Jenner.
Fruit juice is an interesting one. Even 100% pure unsweetened fruit juice is high in the type of sugars we need to cut down on. This is because the juicing process releases the sugars contained in the fruit, meaning they can damage our teeth.
While eating whole fruit is better for your teeth, fruit juice still contains vitamins and minerals, so one glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit juice counts as one of your 5 A DAY. Fruit juice counts as a maximum of one portion a day, even if you drink more than one glass. If you want to drink fruit juice, it is best to have this at mealtimes only.
Collins says: "Not all fruit juices are created equal," says Collins. "If it says 'fruit juice drink' on the label, then it's not a 100% pure juice. A fruit juice drink contains juice, water and a variable amount of added sugar, so be sure to compare labels and avoid the high sugar juice drinks.
"It's an easy win to drop the sugar from sugary drinks. Simply swap the full sugar versions for low calorie or calorie-free ones instead. Better for your teeth and your waistline."
20% of our daily intake of added sugar
Britain is a nation of "grazers", preferring to fill up on something that's quick and comforting but often high in sugar and fat, such as buns, pastries, biscuits and other cereal-based foods.
While cereal-based products, especially wholegrains, form part of a healthy balanced diet, we are advised to cut down on varieties high in sugar and fat, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and contribute to weight gain if eaten in excess.
"For breakfast, there's no need to grab a pastry, muffin or biscuits," says nutritionist Dr Michelle Storfer. "Pastries, muffins and biscuits are laden with sugars, not to mention fat. Instead, opt for porridge oats, natural yoghurt (topped with berries, nuts or seeds) or wholegrain toast with some peanut butter, avocado or eggs. These are healthier options that will keep you feeling satisfied and full of energy until lunch."
11% of our daily intake of added sugar
People are unaware of the sugar content in drinks and don't include them when calculating their daily calorie intake. "But cutting down on how much you drink can have a big effect on your sugar intake and your general health too," says Jenner.
Gram for gram, alcohol contains more calories (7kcal/g) than carbohydrates or protein (4kcal/g). A standard glass of wine (175ml, 12% ABV, 126kcal) can contain as many calories as a piece of chocolate.
Collins says: "We're getting better at counting alcohol units, but most people don't realise that a unit of alcohol equals 70kcals. Add to that value the sugars in your alcoholic drink or added as a mixer, and you can easily top 100kcal per drink."
Tips on cutting down:
6% of our daily intake of added sugar
Although dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt contain lactose (milk sugar), these foods also contain protein and calcium and form part of a healthy balanced diet. We don't need to cut down on lactose, as this type of sugar is not as damaging to our teeth as added sugars.
However, some dairy products, such as flavoured milks, yoghurts and dairy-based desserts such as ice cream, contain added sugar, including table sugar, fructose, concentrated fruit juice and glucose-fructose syrup.
"Watch out for the sugar content in lower fat yoghurts," says Jenner. "When you remove the fat from a product, you remove flavour, so sugar is often added to improve the taste. The result is 'low in fat' can still be high in sugar and calories."
5% of our daily intake of added sugar
Sugar is also found in surprisingly large amounts in many savoury foods, such as stir-in sauces, ketchup, salad cream, ready meals, marinades, chutneys and crisps. A 2007 study by Which? found some ready meals had more sugar content than vanilla ice cream.
"We don't tend to think of savoury dishes being high in sugar, but you'll find sugar added to a surprising number of processed foods in the UK," says Jenner. "One way to take control of your sugar intake, but also your salt and fat intake, is to cook from scratch." If you do buy processed foods, get used to checking food labels for sugar content.
Flood water can be treacherously fast-flowing and is very likely to be contaminated with bugs so there’s a small but real risk of injury and disease for anyone who comes into contact with it. Follow these health precautions to stay safe and avoid falling foul of the deluge.
For more information on flooding call the Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or 0845 988 1188
The latest floods have affected large swathes of England, including the South West, Thames Valley, West Midlands, Kent, Surrey and London.
Since the beginning of December 2013 around 5,800 properties have flooded in England as a result of an extraordinary series of storms, according to the Environment Agency.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that one in six homes are at risk from river or coastal flooding in England.
Drowning is the most immediate health risk during floods, especially in fast-flowing water. It can happen whether you’re walking, cycling or driving.
A main cause of drowning during floods is underestimating the power and force of the water. Just six inches of fast-flowing water can knock you over and make it hard to stand up again.
According to the AA, a third of flood-related deaths are by drowning in a vehicle. It warns that two feet of standing water will float your car and just a foot of rushing water is enough to sweep it away.
What to do:
Expect to feel anxious, tired and have difficulty sleeping. Here's advice on the psychological impact of flooding.
Current reports of raw sewage flowing into some flooded homes have led to fears of outbreaks of unpleasant gastrointestinal infections. In reality, infections from floods in this country are rare where proper precautions are taken, as harmful bugs in flood water tend to become very diluted.
However flood water is often contaminated because bursting rivers and storms can become mixed with animal waste as it washes through farmland. And human sewage can flow into flood water as it spills out of overflowing drains, septic tanks and toilets.
Public Health England (PHE) is monitoring gastrointestinal infections in flooded areas.
Professor Virginia Murray, head of extreme events and health protection at PHE says "We can confirm there is nothing unusual to report with regards to potentially flood-related illness at present. Infection problems arising from floods in this country are rare where public health guidance is followed."
What to do:
See your GP if you have gastrointestinal symptoms and mention that you’ve been in contact with flood water.
Read more about gastrointestinal illness.
Pumps and generators used to dry buildings give out exhaust gases that can cause potentially lethal carbon monoxide poisoning if they’re not used properly.
What to do:
Read more about carbon monoxide poisoning.
Now, read more advice on how to clean up your home after flooding.
Lena Buckingham thought about sweet treats all the time to a point that she felt that sugar was controlling her life and affecting her health.
Here, the mother-of-two from London – a keen blogger and runner, describes how she managed to break her addiction to the white stuff once and for all.
I decided to cut down on sugar two years ago because I realised that I was addicted and I didn’t like the way it controlled my life. I thought about sweet treats all the time, yet when I ate some I quickly felt physically unwell (stomach aches, bloating) so I regretted it straight away. The emotional rollercoaster was exhausting me.
I was not constantly snacking on chocolate bars, but I was eating something sweet like cake, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream after every meal and usually more than a little bit at a time. Sometimes I skipped dinner and just had dessert instead.
"Many people, including myself, are surprised at how well your body feels once you give up the white stuff."
I was bloated and often had stomach aches and severe cramps. My GP thought I had irritable bowel syndrome. I also felt very sleepy every single afternoon. When exercising, my blood sugar levels would often drop so much that I got dizzy and had hot-cold sweats. Sugar was also affecting my mood because I could not moderate the amount I was eating. I could never stop after just one biscuit and the constant failure to eat something in moderation was emotionally difficult to deal with.
I stopped eating most things that had added sugar in it: cakes, cookies, biscuits, ice cream, yoghurt, chocolate etc. In the beginning, I still sometimes snacked on breakfast cereal like Cheerios or Shreddies with milk if I really, really wanted something sweet. I've never added sugar to my tea or coffee, or drink any soft drinks, so that was not an issue.
I mostly went cold turkey but I didn’t really pay attention to the sugar content of food items that were not obviously sweets, like pasta sauces, cereals and bread. Now, I’m much more aware that lots of savoury food items also have a lot of hidden sugar.
I did have sugar cravings in the beginning but usually either cereal or something sweetened with dates or raisins would get me through the episode.
"'I made a decision to not touch anything that has a large quantity of white sugar in it."
The one thing that has helped me the most was to quit sugar not with the mindset of “all the things I cannot eat now” but “what are the sweet things I can eat instead of refined white sugar.” I use stevia, xylitol, honey or maple syrup in baking and also make my own sweet snacks and treats using dates or raisins as the sweet ingredient. Ripe bananas and cooked sweet potatoes are also amazing for baking. They are so sweet that no added sugar is needed. I still enjoy the taste of something sweet but I always stick with natural sweeteners.
I have tried to cut down eating sugar numerous times in the past but always with the strategy of just eating less of something at one time. I always failed. I could never stop after just a small amount, so this time, about two years ago, I decided to stop trying to do this with the same strategy. I made a decision to not touch anything that has a large quantity of white sugar in it and to just stick with treats sweetened with other natural sweeteners. I quickly found out that natural sugars do not make me overeat like refined sugar always did and quitting sugar this way worked very well for me.
My friends and family are definitely more sugar-aware now and some of them have cut down their own sugar consumption. Everyone who has done that has let me know how great it makes them feel, both physically and emotionally. Many people, including myself, are surprised at how well your body feels once you give up the white stuff. It’s almost like in all the years of eating cake we forgot what it felt like to feel truly well.
I never get sleepy in the afternoons anymore, which is great when you have long afternoon meetings at work! I'm able to exercise without drastic drops in my blood sugar levels. I am no longer bloated and my stomach is flatter than it’s been in years. I am able to enjoy my main meals without thinking about dessert. I no longer constantly think about sweets. I don't get overwhelming cravings. I feel like I am in control of my life and and in general I feel so much more energised and healthier than I did in my 20s.
We Britons really do eat too much sugar: 700g of the sweet stuff a week – that’s an average of 140 teaspoons per person.
Our love affair with sugar can mean that many of us are getting too many calories, which is one of the causes behind our ever-expanding waistlines.
Most of us could do with eating less sugar, particularly added sugar. But many habits, especially ones we like, are so hard to kick.
Dietitian Alison Hornby says: “Identify the sources of sugar in your diet, and decide what to cut out completely and what to cut down on.
“You don’t need to cut down on sugars found in fruit or dairy products because these foods contain lots of nutrients that are good for us.
“It’s the food high in added sugar, such as fizzy drinks, which contain lots of calories but few other nutrients that we should be trying to consume less of.”
Added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. That’s about 70g for men and 50g for women. Find out how much sugar is too much.
Nutrition labels tell you how much sugar a food contains. If an item’s total sugar content is over 22.5g per 100g, it is high in sugar. Anything under 5g of total sugar per 100g is low.
“Get used to reading food labels and comparing products to choose the healthier option,” says Alison.
“Watch out for other words used to describe added sugar* in the ingredients list.”
*Sugar’s many guises
There are lots of different ways added sugar can be listed on ingredients labels such as:
Watch out for them on the ingredients list
Cutting down on sugar doesn’t have to mean going cold turkey.
There are lots of small changes you can make, which over the course of a day can add up and make quite a difference.
Here are some simple tips to help you gradually cut down on the amount of added sugar in your diet.
Many breakfast cereals are high in sugar, with some containing up to 37% in sugar. Try switching to lower sugar cereals or those with no added sugar, such as:
Swapping a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal for plain cereal could cut out 70g of sugar (up to 22 sugar cubes) from your diet over a week.
Porridge oats are cheap and contain vitamins, minerals and fibre. Make porridge with semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or water. If you usually add sugar, try adding a few chopped dried apricots or a sliced or mashed banana instead. Try our apple-pie porridge recipe.
For a more gradual option, you could eat sugary cereals and plain cereals on alternate days or mix both in the same bowl.
If you add sugar to your cereal, you could try adding less. Or, you could eat a smaller portion and add some chopped fruit such as a pear or banana, which is an easy way of getting some of your 5 A DAY.
If toast is your breakfast staple, try wholemeal or granary bread (which is higher in fibre than white bread) and see if you can get by with a little less of your usual spreads (jam, marmalade, honey, chocolate spread) or try sugar-free or lower-sugar options.
If you don’t consider yourself to have a sweet tooth and avoid sugary drinks, you may still be eating more sugar than you think. Many foods that we don’t consider to be sweet contain a surprisingly large amount of sugar.
Some ready-made soups, stir-in sauces and ready meals can also be higher in sugar than you think. Some of this sugar will come from the fruit and vegetables they contain, such as tomatoes – which we don't need to cut down on – but sugar is often added for flavour. A third of an average-sized jar of pasta sauce (roughly 150g) can contain over 13g of sugar, including added sugar, the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar.
When eating out or buying takeaways watch out for dishes that are typically high in sugar, such as sweet and sour dishes, sweet chilli dishes and some curry sauces and salads with dressings such as salad cream, which can be high in sugar.
Condiments and sauces such as ketchup can have as much as 23g of sugar in 100g – roughly half a teaspoon per serving. These foods are usually served in small quantities but if eaten every day, the sugar count can add up.
Some packaging uses a colour-coded system which makes it easy to choose foods that are lower in sugar, salt and fat. Look for more "greens" and "ambers" and fewer "reds" in your shopping basket
Healthier snack options are those without added sugar such as fruit (fresh, dried, tinned or frozen), unsalted nuts, unsalted rice cakes, oatcakes or homemade plain popcorn. For more ideas, check out these quick and easy 100 calorie snacks.
If you’re not ready to give up your favourite flavours you could start by having less. Instead of two biscuits in one sitting, try having one. If your snack has two bars, have one and share the other or save it for another day. “If you're an 'all-or-nothing' type of person, you could find something to do to take your mind off food on some days of the week,” says Alison.
When shopping, look out for lower-sugar (and lower-fat) versions of your favourite snacks. Buy smaller packs or skip the family bags and just go for the normal sized one instead.
Here are some lower-calorie substitutes for some popular snacks:
Nearly a quarter of our added sugar in our diets comes from sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, sweetened juices, squashes and cordials. A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar. Try sugar-free varieties or better yet, water, lower-fat milk, or soda water with a splash of fruit juice.
If you take sugar in tea or coffee, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether or try swapping to sweeteners instead. Try some new flavours with herbal teas or make your own with hot water and a slice of lemon or ginger.
Don’t drink all your fruit. Like fizzy drinks, fruit juice can be high in sugar. When juice is extracted from the whole fruit to make fruit juice, sugar is released and this can cause damage to our teeth.
Drinking fruit juice doesn't fill you up as much as eating fruit. It takes about two-and-a-half oranges to make a glass of juice. But a glass of juice isn't as filling as eating two-and-a-half oranges because the fibre in the fruit makes you feel fuller for longer. However, fruit juices do contain vitamins and minerals, and a 150ml glass of unsweetened 100% fruit or vegetable juice counts as one of your 5 A DAY. Remember, fruit juice only counts as a maximum of one of your 5 A DAY, even if you have more than one glass.
If the idea of switching to water feels a drastic departure, you could try flavouring it with a slice of lemon, lime or a splash of fruit juice. Watch out for the sugar content in flavoured water drinks. A 500ml glass of some brands contains 15g of sugar, the equivalent of nearly four teaspoons of sugar.
Work out some ground rules. Do you need to have dessert every day? How about only having dessert after your evening meal, or only eating dessert on odd days of the month, or only on weekends, or only at restaurants?
Do you have to have chocolate, biscuits and cake every day? If you had this type of sugary snack less often, would you actually enjoy it more?
Less sugary desserts include fruit (fresh, frozen, dried or tinned – choose those canned in juice rather than syrup), lower-fat and sugar rice pudding and plain lower-fat yoghurt. Watch out for added sugar content. Lower fat doesn’t necessarily mean low sugar. Some lower-fat yoghurts can be sweetened with refined sugar, fruit juice concentrate, glucose and fructose syrup.
If you’re stuck between choosing two desserts at the supermarket, why not compare the labels on both packages and go for the one with the lower amount of sugar.
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