Jamie’s nutrition team break it down for you.

Obesity is increasing globally at an alarming rate and sugar has been identified as one of the factors causing this health crisis. Despite the fact that, over the last few decades, our dietary intake of sugar has actually decreased, many of us are are still consuming way too much. So why is there so much focus on sugar, and are all sugars bad sugars?

Where are we getting our sugars from?

Soft drinks are the largest single source of sugar consumption for school-age children. That’s why, throughout the past year, Jamie passionately campaigned for the tax on sugary drinks that is due to come into effect in the UK in 2018. We hope that this tax on sugary soft drinks will nudge parents and children to make better choices about types of drinks they buy. We also hope that it encourages food and drink manufacturers to reformulate products that are currently high in free sugars, to help everybody lower their intake to meet government recommendations, and ultimately, improve their health.

How much sugar should we eat?

The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recommend that our free sugar (added sugars) intake should make up no more than 5% of our total daily calorie intake – this equates to 30g of free sugar for adults (11 years and older).

Are all sugars the same?

There are two types of sugar: ‘naturally occurring sugars’ found in fruit and lactose in milk, and ‘free sugars’, which include any sugars added to food and drinks, as well as that in table sugar (sucrose) and those found naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. ‘Free sugars’ are the sugars that many of us need to cut down on.

How do I know if my food contains natural or free sugars?

It might come as a surprise, but most food actually contains certain sugars. Sugars are carbohydrates, and are found naturally in fruit, vegetables, potatoes, milk, rice, as well as processed foods such as cereals, bread, pasta and sauces; plus the obvious culprits – soft drinks, desserts, confectionary, biscuits, cakes and jams. Therefore, to find out if your food contains natural or added sugars, it is best to read the ingredients and nutrition table on the packaging.

How do I recognise sugar on food labels?

Sugar is not always labelled as ‘sugar’ on the label. Other forms of sugar include: honey, corn syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, dextrose, malt syrup, fruit juice concentrates, agave and molasses.

Tips for reading food labels:

  • Look at the ‘of which sugars’ section on the nutrition panel to get an idea of how much sugar the product contains. But be aware that the figure stated here includes both naturally occurring and added sugars – there is currently no differentiation between natural and free sugars on food labels.
  • Look out for ingredients that have ‘ose’ at the end: glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose and maltose – these are all forms of added sugars. Remember to also to look out for honey, corn syrup, raw sugar, malt syrup, fruit juice concentrates, agave or molasses.
  • Check the ingredients list. The higher up the list sugar appears, the more sugar the product contains.

How to reduce your sugar intake

  • Try switching to water instead of carbonated sugary drinks to keep hydrated. Why not give these quick and easy flavoured water ideas a go?
  • This might sound simple, but it works: don’t buy or keep sugary drinks in the house. Save them for a treat or special occasion.
  • Choose homemade porridge or toast with eggs for breakfast instead of shop-bought cereals.
  • Try to avoid low-fat foods as they tend to be higher in sugars. You can go for the real thing – just have smaller portions.
  • Save your favourite treat for the weekend or a special occasion.
  • Why not try having half a spoon less sugar in your tea or coffee? Once you get used to it, you can gradually decrease the amount further.
  • If you fancy something sweet, try having a piece of fruit with yoghurt, or some dried fruit with nuts. Doing this will add to your fruit intake for the day, as well as boost your nutrient and fibre intake.

The key thing to remember is that eating healthily is all about balance. The majority of our diet should be made up of balanced, nutritious foods based on the government’s Eatwell Guide, and indulgent foods, such as those high in sugars, should be enjoyed occasionally and as special treats, rather than every day.

About Eretia O’Kennedy

Eretia is head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver, while Laura Matthews is away on maternity leave. She is passionate about educating people about food and showing them that eating healthily is easy. She was very sporty in school and her interest in nutrition arose when she realised that what we eat has an important role to play in physical performance. Her motto in life is "we are what we eat".