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Lowering Sugar Intake


Recommended Sugar Intake Level

The World Health Organization recommends the intake of added sugars should be less than 5% of daily energy intake. Added sugars refer to sugars that are not occurring naturally in whole foods and these include table sugar, honey, syrups, sweeteners and so forth. For an average adult with a 2000 kcal diet, 5% of daily energy intake is equivalent to 100 kcal or 25 grams of sugar (approximately 6 sugar cubes) daily. First, let’s address where the main sources of sugar come from in your diet.

Sources of added sugar in your diet

In the UK, these are the six main sources of added sugar in your diet according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

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  1. Sugar, preserves and confectionery - 29% of our daily intake of added sugar table sugar, jams, chocolate and sweets

  2. Soft drinks and fruit juice - 27% of our daily intake of added sugar
    soft drinks, fruit juice, and other non-alcoholic drinks

  3. Biscuits, buns, cakes - 21% of our daily intake of added sugar
    buns, pastries, biscuits, and other cereal-based foods

  4. Alcoholic drinks - 12% of our daily intake of added sugar

  5. Dairy products - 6% of our daily intake of added sugar
    flavoured milk, yoghurts (particularly low-fat yoghurts) or ice cream containing added sugar

  6. Savoury food - 5% of our daily intake of added sugar
    condiments, salad cream, ready meals, or crisps

Below are some tips on lowering sugar intake at various occasions.


1. Read your food labels, compare products and choose the one that contains less sugar

It’s important for you to read the nutritional information on food labels to see how much sugar the food contains.

Front of package

Normally at the front of the package, you should see this in the corner:

This is the non-mandatory traffic light label that indicates how much fat, saturated fats, sugar, and salt are present in a food item. Just like a regular traffic light, it signals red (high), amber (medium) and green (low) for each of these ingredients.

Foods indicated green are healthier and should be chosen over with red ones.

It is important to note that the traffic light labelling system for foods is slightly different from the labelling for drinks.


% RIs: Percentage reference intakes

Source: FDA

  • Low: less than 5g per ml

  • Medium: between 5g and 22.5g per ml

  • High: more than 22.5g per 100g or 27g per portion


% RIs: Percentage reference intakes

Source: FDA

  • Low: less than 2.5g per 100ml

  • Medium: between 2.5g and 11.25g per ml

  • High: more than 11.25g per 100ml or 13.5g per portion

Check out this handy Food Shopping Card from the Food Safety Agency (FSA). Print it out and use it for your grocery shopping!

Now, on the back of the package

At the back, you should check the nutrition facts. Look at the row with Carbohydrates - of which sugars see how much sugar the product contains for every 100g. You can then calculate how much sugar is present in your product.


Check the ingredients, as well as sugar, has many different names. Ingredients are labelled in a descending order by weight meaning that the closer the sugar is to the beginning list, the more sugar the product contains.

2. Shopping Tips

Now you know your labels, you can make healthier choices when you do your shopping. Here are some tips:


  • Avoid sugary, fizzy drinks and juices

  • Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals that are not coated with sugar

  • sweetened Pass up yoghurts and go for natural Greek yoghurt

  • Check food labels of low fat or fat-free packaged foods as oftentimes lower fat contents are in fact substituted with sugar for enhanced taste

  • Avoid white flour containing foods (white pasta, bread, biscuits, etc.) and substitute with whole grains instead

  • Learn to spot the various names for sugars (dextrose, fructose, maltose, malt syrup, sucrose, corn syrup, etc.)

Go for low-sugar or sugar-free drinks and food

Look out for the Sugarwise Certification that was developed by Cambridge University and Caltech scientists that helps consumers to identify foods that are low in sugar.

Maximum of 0.5g of total sugar per 100g for a food product

No added sugars, or any food used for its sweetening properties (excluding polyols)

Maximum of 2.5g of overall sugars per 100ml for a drink

Maximum of 5g of overall sugars per 100g for a food product

This product has 30% less sugar than another product of its type and no more than 5% of its calorie content from free sugars.

Food Switch app - FREE

award-winning smartphone app (iOS and Android)

You can use it for grocery shopping and make better food choices. Scan barcodes of packaged foods to see the nutritional content and it helps you find food and drink products with less sugar.

Check out this app

3. Tips on choosing beverages

  • Opt for water or non-sugared tea instead of soft drinks, fruit juice with added sugar, and other sugary beverages.

  • Avoid sugary drinks and swap to water and sugar-free drinks

  • alcoholic as it contains sugar (gin tonic, vodka & cranberry, margaritas, pina coladas, daiquiris, dessert wine, etc.)drinksLimit

  • Avoid flavoured milk (chocolate, strawberry, etc.)

4. Cooking tips

  • Use standard measuring spoons (teaspoon, tablespoon, etc.) to avoid adding extra sugar

  • Gradually reduce the amount of added sugar in coffee, teas, oatmeal, and cereal until you cut it out altogether

  • Reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe by one-third or even half when you bake

  • Use extracts such as almond, vanilla, orange or lemon

  • Use spices like ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.

  • Cut down the use of sauces, condiments and salad dressings such as ketchup, HP sauce, pickles and mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce, etc. Try alternatives like a tomato-based pasta sauce, pesto, plain mustard, houmous, virgin olive oil, lemon, and herbs.

  • Try to bake, grill or steam foods rather than frying

  • Check the serving size stated on the package as sometimes one serving is equivalent to one-quarter of the product. By consuming the entire packet, you will consume four servings instead

  • Control portion size

A smaller plate creates an illusion that you are eating more than when you are serving on a larger plate. Use a smaller plate as you are more likely to over-consume when food is served on a larger plate

5. Dining out tips

Restaurants and takeaway meals often contain a lot of hidden sugars.

  • Request for sauces or syrup to be served separately or ask for a 'less sweet' option.

  • Choose fruit or fruit-based desserts

  • Glazed, candied, caramelised on a menu typically indicates that the dish contains a high amount of sugar

  • Ask to prepare the dish without sugar

  • Try splitting your dessert with someone

6. Snacking tips

When you something to nibble during work or on the commute, try these:


  • Plain nuts and dried fruit (unsweetened)

  • Plain houmous with celery/carrot sticks

  • Fresh fruit

  • Dark chocolate

  • Dairy products (cheese and original Greek yoghurt)



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