[Video] Five easy ways to reduce your sugar intake

Rachael Eden
Dietitian at Bupa UK
17 July 2017

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

Do you reach for the biscuit tin when your tummy starts to rumble between meal times? Or add a teaspoon of sugar to your mid-morning coffee? It’s hard to believe that sugar was once a rationed and sought-after commodity. Nowadays, you can get your hands on the sweet stuff in an instant. And it’s often found in foods you wouldn’t normally expect to see it in, like some yoghurts and cereal bars. So even when you’re trying your best to eat a healthy balanced diet, your sugar intake can start to add up before you know it.

In the UK, the average adult eats twice the recommended amount of sugar, while children and teenagers eat up to three times what’s recommended. And eating too much sugar can lead to health problems like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay.

The good news is – cutting down on your sugar intake doesn’t have to mean giving up the treats you love altogether. By being mindful of what you’re eating and making a few small changes to some everyday foods, reducing your sugar intake is easier than you might think. Take a look at our quick and easy swaps below to help you get started.

What are added sugars?

It’s important to note that the recommendations to cut down on sugar refer to added sugars, also known as free sugars. These are all the sugars that are added to food and drink and also include the naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juice. It’s these free sugars that can be harmful to your health. Foods that tend to be high in free sugars include:

  • sweets
  • chocolate
  • non-diet fizzy drinks
  • cakes
  • biscuits
  • sweet pastries
  • fruit juice
  • jams
  • ice cream
  • some alcoholic drinks

The naturally occurring sugars found in milk, dairy products and whole fruit and vegetables don’t count as free or added sugars. They can make up part of a healthy diet, so there’s no need to limit these.

How much sugar should I eat?

The amount of added or free sugars you eat shouldn’t be any more than 5% of your total energy intake. That’s the same as:

  • five cubes of sugar, or 19g/day, for 4–6-year-olds
  • six cubes of sugar, or 24g/day, for 7–10-year-olds
  • seven cubes of sugar, or 30g/day, from age 11 and up, including adults

What are the different types of sugar?

There are many different types of sugar with many different names, so trying to identify sugar on an ingredients list isn’t always easy. What’s more, there are no regulations for food manufacturers to distinguish between free sugars and other sugars on food labels just yet. So when you check out the ingredients list, you’ll often only find the ‘total sugars’ of that product. This includes both free sugars and natural sugars.

What you can do though, is keep an eye out for some of the following names in the ingredients list:

  • sucrose
  • glucose
  • fructose
  • dextrose
  • maltose
  • invert sugar
  • syrup
  • molasses
  • honey
  • treacle
  • corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrate

All of these are other ways of listing added sugar, so try to avoid products with these ingredients where you can. And remember – the higher up on the ingredients list something appears, the more of it there is in the product.

Sugar swap 1: Frozen treats

Resist the lure of the ice cream van jingle and have fun making your own healthy homemade versions instead.

  • To make banana ice cream: Freeze a bunch of ripe bananas and once frozen, mash them using a fork or food processor. Enjoy the cool creamy texture and naturally sweet taste straight from the bowl.
  • To make fruit smoothie ice-lollies: Combine milk and frozen fruits of your choice in a blender. Once blended, pour the mixture into fun ice-lolly moulds and freeze. Remember to check the ingredients list of your frozen fruits to make sure they don’t contain any added sugars.

Sugar swap 2: Fizzy drinks

Sugary drinks are the biggest source of added sugars for children and teenagers in the UK and among the top sources for adults too. An average 330ml can of cola contains 35g of sugar – that’s around seven teaspoons in a single can. To cut down on your sugar intake, try swapping fizzy drinks for the following.

  • Naturally flavoured water: Mix and match fresh ingredients until you find your favourite flavour combination. Try strawberries and blueberries, lemon and lime or cucumber and mint for starters.
  • Other low-sugar or no-sugar options like milk, no-added-sugar cordials and ‘diet’ versions.

Sugar swap 3: Confectionary

When your energy levels start to fall, it can be tempting to reach for a sugar boost in the form of cakes, biscuits, sweets or chocolate. So the next time you’re looking for some sustenance to keep you going, try these easy low-sugar alternatives instead. Swap:

  • sweets for olives
  • doughnuts for fresh fruit
  • chocolate for a small handful or unsalted nuts
  • sweet pastries for homemade cereal bars
  • biscuits for a small handful of dried fruit
  • muffins for freshly chopped vegetables and dip

Sugar swap 4: Spreads and jams

While it might be quick and convenient to spread jam or marmalade on your breakfast toast, preserves and spreads are often very high in sugar. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend hours cooking breakfast from scratch. Try swapping:

  • jam or marmalade for mashed banana sprinkled with cinnamon
  • honey for peanut butter
  • chocolate spread for mashed avocado with cracked black pepper or lemon juice

Sugar swap 5: Breakfast cereals

We’ve all heard the saying ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, but some breakfast cereals are higher in sugar than you might think. So to help make sure you start your day off on the right foot, try choosing:

  • wholewheat biscuits
  • wholegrain pillows
  • homemade porridge

And to help you on your way to your five-a day, try changing your usual sugary cereal topping and swap:

  • chocolate chips for a handful of dried fruit
  • table sugar for fresh, seasonal fruit
  • honey for stewed fruit, like warming apples and cinnamon – great in the winter

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Rachael Eden
Rachael Eden
Dietitian at Bupa UK