Most adults and children in Northern Ireland eat too much sugar. It’s important that you try to eat fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits. You should also drink fewer soft drinks.
Different types of sugar
Sugars occur naturally in food such as fruit and milk, but you don't need to cut down on these types of sugars. It is food containing added sugars that you should be cutting down on. This includes:
- fizzy drinks and juice drinks
- sweets and biscuits
- cakes, pastries and puddings
- ice cream
Food and drinks containing lots of added sugars contain calories but often have few other nutrients, so you should try to have these types of food and drink only occasionally.
Sugary foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay, particularly if you have them between meals. This includes fruit juice and honey.
The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugars are contained within the structure of the fruit. But, when fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released.
Fruit juice is still a healthy choice, and counts as one of the five portions of fruit and vegetables you should be having every day, but it is best to drink fruit juice at meal times.
Tips for cutting down
It's a good idea to try to cut down on foods and drinks that contain lots of added sugar. These tips will help you cut down:
- have fewer sugary drinks and snacks
- instead of sugary fizzy drinks and juice drinks, go for water or unsweetened fruit juice (remember to dilute these for children) or if you like fizzy drinks then try diluting fruit juice with sparkling water
- instead of cakes or biscuits, try having a currant bun, scone or some malt loaf with low-fat spread
- if you take sugar in hot drinks, or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether
- rather than spreading jam, marmalade or honey on your toast, try a low-fat spread, sliced banana, or low-fat cream cheese instead
- check food labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar or go for the low-sugar version
- try halving the sugar you use in your recipes - it works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream
- choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup
- choose wholegrain breakfast cereals rather than those coated with sugar or honey
Checking food labels
When you are checking food labels, you can use the following as a guide to work out if a food is high or low in sugar.
In the nutritional information, look for the 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)' figure in the nutrition information panel. The panel is usually found on the back of food packs.
- High is more than 22.5g sugars per 100g
- Low is 5g sugars or less per 100g
Traffic light labelling
Some foods have traffic light labels on the front of the pack. This means you can see at a glance if the food you're looking at has high, medium or low amounts of sugars in 100g of the food.
- red = high
- amber = medium
- green = low
You can also get a feel for whether a product is high in added sugars by looking at the ingredients list.
Added sugars must be included in the ingredients list, which always starts with the biggest ingredient first. Watch out for other words that are used to describe added sugars, such as:
- hydrolysed starch and invert sugar
- corn syrup
If you see one of these near the top of the list, you know that the product is likely to be high in added sugars.
Some foods that you might not expect to have sugar added to them can contain lots, for example some breakfast cereals and cereal bars. Other foods can be higher in added sugar than you might expect, such as tins of spaghetti or baked beans.