Top sources of added sugar in our diet

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 table sugar, honey and syrups, should not make up more than 5% of the total energy we get from food and drink each day. This is around 30g a day of added sugar for anyone aged 11 and older.

But the National Diet and Nutrition Survey reveals Britons are having far too much, especially children aged 11 to 18 years – 15% of their daily calories are from added sugar. 

"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."

If you want to cut down on sugar, get used to reading food labels, comparing products, and choosing lower-sugar or sugar-free versions.

Sugar comes in many guises on food labels, including:

  • corn sugar
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • glucose
  • high-fructose glucose syrup
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • agave syrup
  • invert sugar
  • isoglucose
  • levulose
  • maltose
  • molasses
  • sucrose

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.  

Sugar, preserves and confectionery

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.

Sweet offenders:

  • chocolate spread (57.1g of total sugar per 100g)
  • plain chocolate (62.6g/100g)
  • fruit pastilles (59.3g/100g)

Non-alcoholic drinks

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.

A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar. Perhaps more surprising, 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.

That said, fruit juice still contains vitamins and minerals, so one glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit juice counts as one of your 5 A DAY. To reduce the risk of tooth decay, fruit juice is best enjoyed at mealtimes.

Children should avoid sugary drinks and swap to water, lower-fat milks, and diet, sugar-free and no-added sugar drinks.

Sweet offenders:

  • cola (10.9g/100ml)
  • squash cordials (24.6g/100ml)
  • sweetened fruit juice (9.8g/100ml)  

Biscuits, buns and cakes

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, try 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.

Sweet offenders:

  • iced cakes (54g/100g)
  • chocolate-coated biscuits (45.8g/100g)
  • frosted corn flakes (37g/100g)

Alcoholic drinks

11% of our daily intake of added sugar

Some people are unaware of the sugar content in alcohol and don't include booze when calculating their daily calorie intake.

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.

Tips on cutting down:

  • have a few alcohol-free days each week
  • try lower-alcohol drinks
  • have a smaller bottle of beer instead of a can
  • use sugar-free mixers
  • swap every other drink for a water or sugar-free soft drink

For more advice, read about calories in alcohol and get some tips on cutting down.

Dairy products

6% of our daily intake of added sugar

Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt form part of a healthy balanced diet. But some dairy products, such as flavoured milks, yoghurts and dairy-based desserts like ice cream, contain added sugar.

Sweet offenders: 

  • fruit yoghurt (16.6g/100g)
  • fruit fromage frais (13.3g/100g)
  • choc ice (20.5g/100g)

Savoury food

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 study by Which? found some ready meals had more sugar content than vanilla ice cream.

Sweet offenders:  

  • tomato ketchup (27.5g/100g)
  • stir-in sweet and sour sauce (20.2g/100g)
  • salad cream (16.7g/100g)

Page last reviewed: 15/02/2016

Next review due: 15/02/2018

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