Sugar: how much is too much?

Today saw the UK’s Scientific Advisory Council on Nutrition publish their recommendations for sugar intake for the UK population, based on the most up-to-date evidence.

The recommendations are draft and are out for consultation. The aim is to set targets to reduce sugar consumption as a means to halt the alarming rise in obesity, and type two diabetes. SACN have recommended that a maximum of 5% of our calories come from added or “free” sugars. This includes added sugar and sugars from fruit juices and honey.

The World Health Organization recently recommended a maximum of 10% of energy from added and free sugars while advising governments to aim to reduce intakes to 5% so the SACN recommendations are in line with this.

Campaigners responses

Action on sugar, the campaign organisation has welcomed the recommendations. As one of the main sources of free sugars are soft drinks, Sustain has launched a campaign to call on the government to introduce a tax on sugary drinks duty – with revenue going into a children’s future fund – you can sign this campaign here.

Dental health

Independent experts, Professors Aubrey Sheiham and Philip James have today published a paper in the Journal of Public Health and Nutrition which recommends intakes should reduce to no more than 3% to address dental health issues.

The key is going to be how the Government responds to the recommendation. They have so far taken a very easy line with food industry. Setting up the Responsibility Deal which effectively allowed food industry to set their own targets on sugar reduction. This has resulted in them reducing sugar on some products but not on others, making the whole thing a bit of a sham.

The SACN recommendations are all based on a review of the latest evidence. The concern is that after the consultation, the recommended intakes get watered down, to what is considered an achievable level based on current intakes, as well as, of course food industry lobbying. As someone said to me earlier today, it’s going to be an interesting few months (not least as we are heading for an election within the year).

So, what is 5% of your energy intake?

So what does this all mean for you and me, and our kids and our parents and grandparents? Cutting added sugar and fructose is very in at the moment but what if you still like a sweet treat or you’re giving your children sweet treats – how much too much?

Well I thought it would be interesting to do a few calculations to work out how much 5% of our calorie intake is .. and here are my workings out below. So you can see clearly how many grams or teaspoons as a maximum you and yours should be consuming in a day based on these recommendations. And it’s worth emphasising that this is a maximum, not a target, ideally intakes should be below this level.

SACN draft recommendations

Right, so the next step is to look at some examples of sugary foods/drinks and how much sugar these contain…

(Accessed on 26 June 2014)

This list is obviously far from exhaustive, but I just wanted to have a look out of interest. I might add to it if I get some time in the next few days.

If you want to work out how many teaspoons of sugar a product contains, look at the sugar content (in grams) and divide by 5 as there are 5 grams in a teaspoon of sugar. If you are looking at foods that contain milk, remember that milk has it’s own sugars which are not included in this calculation.