spoonful of sugar

With all the chat around sugar, we want to help you understand exactly how sugar is classified, how much you should be consuming, and how to work out the amount of sugar there is in different foods and drinks, to help you reduce your intake.


Sugar is classed in two ways:

  1. FREE SUGARS – sugar added to food and drink, as well as sugar found naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentratesImage of honey (a free sugar) being poured into a bowl
  2. NATURALLY OCCURRING SUGARS – found in fruit and milk

Image of slices of lemon, blood orange, oranges and limes (natural sugars)


In the UK, there are lots of figures out there so it can get confusing. Let’s break it down:

  • The reference intake – the Government’s guideline daily amount – of “total sugars” (both naturally occurring and free sugars) for the average adult is a maximum of 90g per day, but they don’t currently provide specific guidelines for children. 
  • The Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) gives guidance on the consumption of free sugars. They recommend that our daily intake should be less than 5% of our total energy intake. So what does that really mean?  
    • Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g or 5 teaspoons of free sugars per day
    • Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g or 6 teaspoons of free sugars per day  
    • Children aged 11 years and upwards, as well as adults, should have no more than 30g or 7 teaspoons of free sugar per day

– To put this into perspective, a typical 330ml can of fizzy drink can contain up to 35g or 9 teaspoons of free sugar –

Image of a tray of food that is high in sugar covered in sugar


Sugar is added to all sorts of foods and drinks to make them taste sweet or to preserve their flavour. And it’s not just found in products you’d expect, such as cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks and desserts. You’ll also find it in things like baked beans, bread and cereal. So, make sure you check the ingredients list on the label so you know how much sugar a product contains.

Things to look out for:

  • Added sugar or free sugars – the ones we want to cut down on – aren’t always labelled as sugar, so can be tricky to spot. The following are all sugars: agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, honey, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose and molasses. Make sure you read the labels
  • Food labels list the ingredients in descending order, so in general the higher sugar appears in the list, the more that product contains
  • For extra clarity, use the nutritional information panel on the back of the pack. Sugar is listed as ‘of which sugars’ and is the total sugar content per serving and/or per 100g. But, this figure doesn’t distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and free sugars, so read the ingredients list too to give yourself an idea of whether there are likely to be any naturally occurring sugars in that product
  • In the UK, many food and drink manufacturers now use traffic light labelling on front of pack as well, signposting key nutrient values – including sugar, saturated fat and salt – as green, amber or red (low, medium or high). Use this information to educate yourself. As a general rule, most of the time you should aim to choose food and drinks that are mainly green and amber across all values, not just sugar!

Image of a spoon of brown sugar


The reality is that consuming too much sugar will have a detrimental effect on your health:

  • Sugar provides the body with empty calories that give us energy without any nutrients. As a result, we eat more without feeling full or satisfied. This leads to an increased risk of weight gain, certain diseases, and a cycle of highs and lows in  energy levels, which will leave you feeling tired and craving even more sugar
  • Frequent consumption can lead to tooth decay. A report by the Royal College of Surgeons published earlier this year showed tooth decay to be the most common reason five- to nine-year-olds were admitted to hospital
  • It can also lead to type-2 diabetes, the levels of which have risen dramatically in recent years. Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of developing the disease. Diabetes UK reports that there are currently 3.3 million people in the UK living with diabetes, and many of these cases are type-2


The key thing to remember is that overall, eating healthily is all about balance. Indulgent foods, such as those high in fat and/or sugar, can be enjoyed and savoured, but only occasionally, not every day. The majority of our diet should be made up of balanced, nutritious everyday foods.  

Let us know your thoughts @JamieOliver.

About the author

Laura Matthews

Laura is head of nutrition at Jamie Oliver. Her passion for food comes from having cooking lessons at a local college from the age of 10, and the nutrition side from a fascination for how the right foods can fuel the body.

Laura Matthews