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​Ending our love affair with sugar


Dr Know - a monthly column by Dr Jonty Heaversedge, Chair of NHS Southwark CCG


Sugar has recently taken a central position in the battleground between food and health. Most of us know that too much sugar is bad for our health, but not as many of us know how much constitutes too much.

A recent study by a team of expert nutritionists has uncovered that we need to half the amount of sugar we currently consume.  

Our love affair with sugar can mean that many of us are having too many calories, which is one of the causes behind our ever-expanding waistlines. One in four adults and almost one in ten children aged four to five are obese. Being overweight or obese is a danger to our health. It increases the risk of life-threatening diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Sugar is also the main cause of tooth decay, which affects one in three five year olds.

Not all sugars are bad. It's the food and drink high in added sugar that we should be cutting down on, such as – sweetened fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, confectionery, fruit juice, and sugar added at the table.

So, exactly how much sugar is too much? The most up-to-date guidance is that no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added sugar. For children aged 11 or over and adults that's no more than 30g, or seven teaspoons, of added sugar a day – less than a single can of Coca-Cola, which contains around nine teaspoons. Children aged seven to 10 should have no more than 24g, or six teaspoons, a day (around the amount in a Snickers bar). Children aged four to six should have no more than 19g, or five teaspoons, a day (around the amount in a pouch of Capri Sun drink). 

Cutting down doesn't have to mean going cold turkey. There are lots of small changes you can make to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. Try gradually reducing the amount of sugar you take in tea or coffee, switch to lower sugar cereals like plain porridge and check food labels carefully for sugar content. Fizzy drinks, squashes and cordials contain nearly a quarter of the added sugar in our diets so try sugar-free varieties or better yet – have water.

Reining in our sugar intake is by no means easy but starting now gives us a better chance of living longer, healthier lives.

Visit www.nhs.uk for more tips on how to cut down on sugar and advice on reading food labels.