The sweet life
The World Health Organisation has issued a new guideline strongly recommending that we reduce our 'free sugar' intake to be no more than 10% of our total kilojoule intake.
This new guideline is based on solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars below 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of obesity as well as tooth decay.
'Free sugars' refers to sugars added to foods and drinks by manufacturers, cooks, and you the consumer, as well as those found naturally in honey, syrups and fruit juices. It doesn't however refer to the sugars found in fresh fruits and vegetables, or those naturally present in milk.
It can therefore be tricky to determine how much 'free sugar' we're consuming from packaged and processed foods as the Nutrient Information Panel refers to all sugars (added and naturally occurring), not just free sugars.
How much sugar is too much?
There isn't currently a recommended daily intake level of sugar in Australia, however if you're interested in figuring out how much sugar you should be eating based on the new WHO recommendations, you can start by calculating your recommended daily energy needs on the Eat For Health website. There's one gram of sugar to every 17kJs.
- TIP: Don't get confused by looking for foods that only have 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams as that would be 10% of the weight of the food, not the kilojoules.
For an adult Australian on a diet of 8700kJ a day, staying under 10% of total energy means consuming no more than 55 grams or 13 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Much of the sugar we consume today is hidden in processed foods that we may not think of as sweets. WHO gives the example of tomato sauce – with one tablespoon containing around one teaspoon of sugar. And then there are the obvious sources of sugar, such as soft drinks. For example, a 600ml bottle of Coca Cola contains 16 teaspoons of sugar alone. Even a 200ml popper of apple juice contains the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar.
How Australia compares
Figures from the SRAS suggest that total sugar consumption in Australian has actually been on the decline. In 1995, 22% of out total energy intake came from sugar (naturally occurring and added). This had fallen to 20% of total energy intake by 2011–12.
As for free sugar consumption, we're borderline when it comes to adhering to WHO's recommendations. Bill Shrapnel, a consultant nutritionist and an advisor to the Sugar Research Advisory Service (SRAS), said that the "average adult intakes of free sugars in Australia are currently about 10% of calories; in children the figure is a little higher. So the overall message is that some people need to cut down their sugar intake a bit".
The WHO guidelines also recommended that a further reduction in the consumption of free sugars to less than 5% of total energy consumption would yield additional benefits, but the recommendation is more conditional as the evidence base so far is less comprehensive.