What are the most common types of sugar?
- Sucrose is often called table sugar. Made up from glucose and fructose, it is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet and also naturally present in most fruits and vegetables
- Glucose and fructose are found in fruits, vegetables and honey
- Lactose is commonly called milk sugar because it is found in milk and dairy products
- Maltose is also known as malt sugar and is found in malted drinks and beer.
What is sugar and what is it used for?
Sugar is a natural ingredient which gives sweetness for a range of food and drinks. As a traditional kitchen ingredient, it has been used for centuries to provide structure, texture, flavour, and sweetness to all kinds of products. It is also used in manufacturing, and provides a natural preservative effect.
Can sugars be hidden in pre-packaged food and drink?
No. Sugar can never be hidden in pre-packaged food or drinks, subject to labelling requirements (3) (4)
Food labels on the back (or side) of a pack typically show the list of ingredients (in descending order of weight), as well as the total sugars contained in the product per 100g or per 100ml of product. Labels sometimes also show this information per portion or as per the country’s daily dietary amount guidelines.
When looking at labels, sugars most commonly present in food and drinks are glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose and maltose – collectively they are known as ‘sugars’ and this term is used in nutritional labelling on pack: ‘carbohydrate – of which sugars’.
Food labels in most countries do not currently identify ‘added sugars’ (i.e. sugars that have been added during food and drink manufacturing). It is not possible to distinguish naturally occurring sugars from added sugars in a laboratory, given they are the same molecules.
However, some countries are now moving towards ‘added sugars’ labelling. For example, the US is introducing ‘added sugars’ onto labels of pre-packaged food and drink products in 2020. ‘Added sugars’ on US labels will include sugars that are added during the processing of foods, as well as sugars from added syrups, honey and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.
Some sugars are better for you than others
No sugars are better or worse for you; the different sugars are broken down and used in different ways but, most importantly, the body doesn’t distinguish between sugars used in manufacturing or in the kitchen, and those sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables. For example, sucrose in an apple is broken down in exactly the same way as the sucrose in your sugar bowl. However, the rate of which the sugar (sucrose) is absorbed can vary depending on if the source is a solid or liquid food, for example, in an apple or apple juice.
Is brown sugar better for me than white sugar?
No, both brown and white sugar is a form of sucrose and contain the same number of calories at 4 calories per gram.
Does sugar cause obesity and diabetes?
Current scientific evidence does not suggest that sugar directly causes conditions such as obesity or diabetes (14)
. Both of these conditions are due to a complex range of factors such as being excess body weight, physical inactivity although other factors such as genetics diet and ethnicity may also play a role (15)
However, like protein, starch, fat and alcohol, sugar is a source of calories in the diet and if we consistently consume more ‘energy’ or calories than our bodies use, this can lead to an accumulation of excess body fat. This can then result in obesity which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
NOTE: Scientific evidence contained within a report published by the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) found no direct link between total sugars intake and diabetes. However, it suggests a greater risk is associated with a higher intake of sugars-sweetened beverages (14)
How much sugar per day should I eat?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting intake of free sugars* to less than 10% of total energy intake as part of a healthy diet (1)
.This is equivalent to 50g (or about 12 level teaspoons) for a person of healthy body weight consuming about 2000 calories per day.
A further reduction to less than 5% of total energy intake is suggested for additional health benefits. In some countries, governments and health authorities have their own guidelines and in October 2020, the Scientific Committee of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (34, 36)
introduced new intake recommendations on free sugars** that are the same as the WHO.
Free sugars are all sugars added to foods or drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
** Added sugars are defined as the definition adopted in Annex II of the European Framework for National Initiatives on Selected Nutrients of the European Commission: sugars that are added to food during its preparation, preparation or cooking, as well as those present in a natural in honey, syrups, juices and fruit concentrates. This definition is equivalent to that of free sugars, included in the World Health Organization's guide on sugar intake for adults and children of 2015.
Does sugar rot your teeth?
All food and drinks that contain fermentable carbohydrates (e.g. sugary foods such as cookies, cakes, soft drinks and candy as well as less obvious foods, such as bread, crackers, bananas and breakfast cereals), can increase the risk of tooth decay.
Fermentable carbohydrates (including sugars) are broken down by the bacteria in the mouth to produce acid and this acid can then dissolve away some of the enamel surface of teeth.
Tooth decay can be minimised by limiting the frequency of exposure to all ‘fermentable carbohydrates’ (including sugars) and increasing exposure to fluoride from sources such as fluoridated drinking water, salt, milk and toothpaste (16,17)
. Twice daily tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste should also be encouraged. Visiting your dentist on a regular basis can also help.
: The World Dental Federation (DFI) (18)
suggest that the risk of dental caries increases if consuming excessive amounts of sugar from snacks, processed food and soft drinks, e.g. more than four times a day and/or more than 50 grams (approx. 12 teaspoons) per day. They also recommend awareness of not only sugars added to food but also those naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Are sweeteners better for me than sugar?
Sugars and sweeteners are both safe – the choice depends on your taste preference and the type of product. Sweeteners can offer you an alternative choice but can’t replicate all of the other important functions that sugar provide such as texture, preservation etc. Instead sugar alternatives can only replace the sweetness of sugars and the majority has zero calories.
How many calories are in a teaspoon of sugar?
There are 16 calories in a level teaspoon (4g) of sugar
What is the energy value of sugar?
Sugar has four calories per gram compared to protein (four calories), fat (nine calories) and alcohol (seven calories).
What’s the difference between white and brown sugar?
White and brown sugars are both made from sugar cane or sugar beet. Brown sugar is essentially white sugar combined with molasses, which provides the dark colour, characteristic flavour and texture. The darker brown the sugar, the higher the amount of molasses. Both have the same amount of calories at 4 calories per gram.
Is sugar addictive?
Current scientific evidence does not support the idea that sugar (or any other foodstuff) can be addictive (21)
. Certain food and drinks of course can be pleasurable to consume, but it is important not to confuse this with clinical addiction.
Is sugar toxic?
Scientific studies have not found an adverse or “toxic” effect when sugars are consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently undertaking a scientific assessment to attempt to set a tolerable upper intake level for total/added sugar/free sugars if the available data allows it (22a)
. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, EFSA aims to have a draft ready for public consultation in the middle of 2021, with final adoption coming before the end of the same year (22b)
Is there any difference between the sugars consumed in drinks or those consumed in food?
The body breaks down each type of sugar in exactly the same way, irrespective of where it comes from. For example, sucrose in an apple is broken down in exactly the same as the sucrose in your sugar bowl. However, the rate of which the sucrose is absorbed can vary depending on if the source is a solid or liquid food, for example in an apple or apple juice
What is the difference between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars?
Added sugars (also known as free sugars) are those used in manufacturing or added by the cook or consumer. Naturally occurring sugars are those found naturally in a product e.g. fruit or vegetables
How can I find out how much sugars are in my pre-packaged food or drink?
Today pre-packaged foods and drinks manufactured in Spain display labels on pack to help people make informed food and drink choices. These labels can help you understand the nutrient and calorie count of the products you are buying (3, 4).
What is the role of sugars in the diet?
Sugars are an important source of energy with glucose being the most important for the body. For example, the human brain requires around 130 grams of glucose per day to keep functioning. Glucose can be found in a variety of foods including fruit, vegetables and honey.