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Let’s look at ‘free’ sugar

Free sugars are any sugar we add, as well as the sugar found naturally in foods. Read more to find out
Juicing an orange
© Getty

Do you know what we mean when we refer to a ‘free’ sugar? How do these differ from other sugars and how do you make sure you don’t consume too many of them?

Eating too much sugar or sugary foods can lead to excess calories, which may result in obesity, as well as dental decay, and the risk of conditions like heart disease. In order to prevent this, we need to watch the amount of ‘free’ sugars in our diets.

What are ‘free’ sugars?

Free sugars are any sugar we add to food and drinks, as well as the sugar found naturally in honey, syrup like agave or maple, fruit juice and fruit concentrates. We call these ‘free’ sugars because the sugar is not locked inside plant cells, as it is with whole fruit and vegetables.

A good way of illustrating this is when we juice an orange – the natural fruit sugars are extracted from the plant cells and become ‘free’. The fibre which once protected the sugar and slowed our digestion of it, is lost. This makes the sugar easier to digest, it more rapidly affects our blood sugar levels and it’s very easy to consume more of it than is good for us.

Experts recommend that we limit the amount of ‘free’ sugars in our diets to no more than 5 per cent of our daily calories. This equates to about 30g of sugar per day, that’s the equivalent of 7 sugar cubes for an adult or child over the age of 11 years.

To put this in perspective, if you eat an average sized chocolate bar, a small glass of fruit juice and a can of regular cola every day, you’ll be consuming more than double this recommended amount.

Have you ever thought about the foods that contribute the most sugar to your diet?

Table sugar added to hot drinks and breakfast cereals, jams and syrups, as well as soft drinks, are major contributors, as are flavoured waters and fruit juice. Biscuits, cakes, sweets and chocolate are also, unsurprisingly, high up on the list.

What free sugars do you consume?

Which foods are they found in?

© BBC Good Food
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Sweet Tooth: Understanding Sugar and the Body with BBC Good Food

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