What is added sugar?

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits. Added sugar won’t simply read as ‘added sugar’ on an ingredients list so you must be careful.

You can check if a food has added sugar by reading the ingredients list and looking out for the following ingredients, all of which are classes as added sugars:

  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioner's powdered sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • Pancake syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • White granulated sugar

The above list could go on!

A good rule of thumb is that sugars naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables and dairy are okay but sugars removed from their original source and added to foods, we need to be more wary of.

So what’s the difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar in foods?

Let’s take fructose as one example. Fructose is what makes foods sweet and is found naturally in certain foods like fruit. There is a big difference in eating fructose from fruit and eating it in a ‘free’ or ‘added’ form.

Fructose in fruit is encased in fibre which hugely affects its metabolism in our bodies. The fibre helps to slow down the absorption and so it doesn’t get fast, direct access to the liver like it does when it is ‘free’, for example in syrups and some juices.

Next, let’s look at lactose, which is a natural sugar found in dairy products. If you look at the nutrition label for whole milk you will see it has sugar in it, however this is natural sugar from lactose. Products such as flavoured milks will contain lactose, a natural sugar, as well as added sugar. The same goes for yogurt, and low fat yoghurts with added flavours. Search the label for the other names for added sugar (mentioned above). The naturally occurring lactose in yoghurt is around 1 teaspoon (5g) per 100 grams, so any extra sugar than that can be classed as ‘added’ sugar.

The above label is an example of a low-fat, flavoured yogurt. The label says there is 19 grams of sugar per serving size of 170 grams.

The above label is an example of a low-fat, flavoured yogurt. The label says there is 19 grams of sugar per serving size of 170 grams.

"We should be aware of the added sugars in the food and drink...".

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Like I said, check the ingredients and see if there are any other names for sugar hidden in the ingredients. We can see both ‘evaporated cane juice’ and ‘fruit concentrate’. So 19 grams divided by 4 (4 grams per teaspoon) is over 4 teaspoons, closer to 5, so let’s say 5 teaspoons of sugar.

We know that 1 teaspoon per 100 gram is lactose which means that in 170 grams there will be 1.7 teaspoons of natural lactose sugar. This means that 5 teaspoons in total minus the 1.7 teaspoons of lactose leaves 3.3. There are over 3 teaspoons of ‘added’ sugars in this yoghurt. That’s half your daily recommended amount (from the World Health Organisation). If you are going for a yoghurt, I would suggest a plain Greek yoghurt and add your own whole fruit if needed.

The above is an example of how some people can get caught out when they think they are going for a ‘better’ option, when in fact it has a lot of hidden sugars that should be taken into account.

A more obvious product that I am sure people know is full of sugar, is of course, Coca Cola. By having one can of regular Coca Cola, you are consuming around 35g sugar. That is ‘added’ sugar - not natural sugar. One snickers bar contains similar.

That may mean nothing to some people, but let’s put it into perspective and think of it like this:

  • Snickers or coca cola do not contain any naturally occurring sugars, therefore all that sugar is added.
  • It is recommended, on average, taking most countries around the world into consideration that we consume between 5-10% of our daily calories from added sugar. And that is hoping we stick to the lower end!
  • If I eat 2000 kcals per day, 5% of those calories = 100 kcals. That’s how many kcals we should be having per day from ‘added’ sugar.
  • Break that into grams, and as sugar is a carbohydrate, we divide 100 by 4 and it gives us 25g added sugar per day.
  • You’ve gone over that if you have a single can of regular coke, and if you just stick to the 10%, and add a snickers to that, you’re already over your recommended intake by 20grams…

See below a list of common foods people consume and the average added sugar intake in each.

Now bear in mind the American Heart Association now recommends the following added sugar intake for men and women:

From the above foods in the info graph alone, you can see how easy it is to rack up 25g and 36g of added sugar (recommended above).

From the above foods in the info graph alone, you can see how easy it is to rack up 25g and 36g of added sugar (recommended above).

How can you make a simple change?

If you are someone who has a can of coke or fizzy drink a day, then switching to coke zero or similar, means you would be cutting out 35g added sugar a day.

35 x 7 = 245g added sugar a week.
245g x 4 = 980 kcals a week.

That’s almost 1,000 kcals you could be avoiding a week just by switching, not even cutting out, fizzy drinks.

Of course, there’s the argument of artificial sweeteners and whether they are better or worse than sugar, however I have already done an article on diet soft drinks and artificial sweeteners, which you can find on the BTN Blog if you haven’t read it yet.

To sum things up; we should be aware of the added sugars in the food and drink we consume, whilst not worrying too much about natural sugars that come from foods such as fruit, unless they are in excess.

If you want to start cutting back on added sugar in your diet then have a look at the ingredients list on your food in your cupboard, and if the sugar content is below 5g of sugar per 100g, then keep it. If not, bin it.

As always, if you have any questions you can get me on social media:

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