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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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How to cut down on sugar

We all eat way too much sugar – it contributes to obesity, tooth decay and is putting people at risk of type 2 diabetes.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has advised that we need to drastically reduce the amount of sugar we eat.

Here are some tips to help us slash the sugar in our diets.


'Free sugars'

Sugar is found naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products – all important foods for a healthy, balanced diet.

What we do need to cut down on, though, is the ‘free sugars’ in food and drink – this includes any added or ‘hidden’ sugar as well as the ‘natural’ sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

Added sugar is the sugar we add to our food and drink. This includes the sugar we stir in our tea or the caster sugar we add to our baking. However, most of the sugar we eat is ‘hidden’ as food manufacturers have put it into a lot of the food and drinks we buy. It’s very easy to be unaware that the amount of sugar you’re consuming is reaching unhealthy levels because it comes in so many forms and in so many products. any other name

Even if we don’t see the word 'sugar' listed in the ingredients, it’s often there, but under a different name. Look for any of the following words, which indicate that sugar has been added.

  • glucose
  • sucrose
  • maltose
  • honey
  • molasses
  • maple syrup
  • glucose syrup    
  • hydrolysed starch
  • corn syrup
  • agave nectar
  • coconut palm sugar
  • treacle

Although honey, agave nectar and maple syrup are marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar, they’re really just other forms of sugar. 

What's the limit? 

Our intake of ‘free sugars’ should not be more than 5 per cent of our daily energy intake.

The maximum daily 'free sugar' intake for:

  • children (aged 4 to 7) is 19g, equal to 5 cubes or 5 tsp of sugar
  • children aged (7 to 10) is 24g, equal to 6 cubes or 6 tsp of sugar
  • children (over 11) and adults is 30g, equal to 7 cubes or 7 tsp of sugar

Where sugar lurks

Apart from the obvious places like cakes, biscuits, chocolates, sweets and fizzy drinks, sugar is lurking where we wouldn’t expect it – such as in sauces, ready meals, bread and even bottled flavoured water.

Look at how many teaspoons of sugar are in these products: 

  • 330ml bottle of pure orange juice = 7
  • 500g jar of pasta sauce = 8
  • 2 scoops of low-fat ice cream = 3
  • 500ml flavoured mineral water = 6
  • coffee shop standard hot chocolate and cream = 10
  • skinny blueberry muffin = 6

(: Measurement of of sugar varies; 1 sugar cube or 1 tsp is estimated to be equal to 4g sugar)

"Low-fat foods, such as yogurts, can be higher in sugar, so always check labels for ingredients.”

Margaret, 73, who has type 2 diabetes

The easiest way to cut down on sugar is to swap sugary drinks, including fruit juices and smoothies, to water, lower-fat milks, sugar-free and no-added sugar drinks. In the case of fruit juices and smoothies – it’s better to eat the whole fruit itself because we’re then getting the benefits of eating fibre, and the sugar in the fruit is absorbed more slowly in our bodies. 

Sugar shockers 


Swap regular cola for diet cola...


...and save 9 sugar cubes 


Swap flavoured milk for semi-skimmed...


...and save 8 sugar cubes 


Swap orange juice for the whole fruit...


...and save 5 sugar cubes 

Check the labels...

Try to reduce the sugar you're adding yourself and look more closely at food labels for all that ‘hidden’ sugar.

Does low fat mean high sugar? 

For good health, and to keep our weight in check, it is not advisable to eat too much fat, especially the saturated fat found in butter, ghee, lard, pastries, cakes and processed meats.

Food manufacturers have created hundreds of low-fat products and marketed them to us as ‘healthy’. However, the taste of many of these products was altered by the removal of most of the fat, so sugar was added to the food to compensate. But what we're eating is still high in calories and not much healthier. 

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