Skip main navigation

What are Free Sugars?

What are free sugars? Read more to find out.
Juicing an orange
© BBC Good Food

Do you know what we mean when we refer to ‘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 percent 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
This article is from the free online

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

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education