Nutrition Tips

Sugar, Do You Eat Too Much?

Posted on
April 9, 2021

Sugar do you eat too much?


We are told we eat too much sugar and should cut down for the benefit of our health, but it is hard to do particularly after Easter when you find yourself surrounded by pretty coloured Easter eggs staring at you every time you open the pantry door. How much is too much and is any of it good? Let’s take a look along with some tips to keep us in check.


According to the Australian Health Survey 2011-2012 (1) Australians eat around 60 grams or 14 teaspoons of free sugars per day. Ideally for the biggest health benefit the World Health Organisation, (2) for the average adult is recommending we aim for an intake 25grams or 6-7 teaspoons of ‘free sugars’ per day. ‘Free sugars’ refers to sugar added to foods plus the sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. I am not suggesting you count the sugar in everything you eat or that you can’t enjoy high sugar foods, you can, but it is useful to have some idea of how much sugar you are eating and drinking in different foods per day and what other nutrients that food might offer.


Eat wholefoods

Look at a food as the whole package, not just one single nutrient, in this case sugar. A food containing sugar doesn’t make it one too avoid. Ask yourself what else does it offer?


Fruit, for example contains sugars; fructose and glucose, however it comes with a whole array of other nutritional benefits such as dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. I wouldn’t be looking to cut sugar intake by reducing eating whole fresh fruit, it comes nicely balanced just how it is. We should aim for 2 servings of fruit per day.


Fruit juice is another story. It can contain around for example four oranges to make one 200ml glass of juice, more fruit than you would typically eat in one sitting. This is a fairly large sugar hit, around 10% sugar (same amount as soft drink,) that is much more rapidly released in a juice compared to when you eat a whole fruit and without the whole fruit benefit of the dietary fibre. I recommend eat your orange rather than juice it or keep the glasses of juice to around 125ml (3) (1/2 glass) if you drink it regularly.


Milk and yoghurt are other examples, they contain the sugar lactose, along with protein, calcium, phosphorus and other important vitamins and minerals. As a whole food these are valuable, nutritious food options and shouldn’t be avoided just because they contain some sugar.


Carbohydrate containing foods such as bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, barley and legumes have the carbohydrate you would know as starch. This is when many glucose molecules (a type of sugar,) are joined together like in a string of beads. They are digested into individual glucose molecules that are absorbed into the blood stream and are stored in out body to be used as energy. These foods provide dietary fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and plenty of phytonutrients beneficial to health. Choosing wholegrain varieties which release the digested carbohydrate more slowly is recommended. These are nourishing foods and should be included in your diet in amounts suitable to you; again not avoided because they are digested into sugar.

Sugars too be aware of

Low nutrient containing foods such as cakes, lollies, soft drinks, energy drinks and biscuits also contain sugar, generally sucrose, the issue here is that these foods don’t contain other valuable nutrients like the fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods we discussed above. For example, a can of soft drink (375ml,) contains 10% sugar = 37.5grams= around 8 teaspoons of sugar. That is more than the recommended daily amount without any vitamins, minerals or other nutritional value.


Many ultra processed packaged foods contain numerous sources of sugar in the one food. Read the labels to see how much sugar they contain. Sugar could be included in ingredients such as dextrose, coconut sugar, maple syrup, glucose syrup, brown sugar. The first ingredient on the ingredient list is the one in largest quantity by weight so check the ordering of the different sugars.


How to cut down on sugar


·        Swap soft drink and fruit juice for water

·        Drink plain milk over flavoured

·        Read labels for ingredients e.g. on breakfast cereals. Plain oats over clusters and add your own fruit for flavour.

·        Grab a handful of nuts or seeds before lollies

·        Move chocolate, biscuits and lollies out of sight and when eating sit to savour and enjoy

·        Cut smaller servings of cake with less icing and take your time to enjoy

·        Try tea and coffee with less or no sugar, using lactose free dairy milk is sweeter and may mean you can skip adding sugar (even though it doesn't contain more sugar the lactose sugar is split into its two individual sugars- glucose and galactose so tastes sweeter)

·        Check sugar levels in sauces, marinades, pre packaged foods.

·        Mix alcoholic drinks with soda water over lemonade

·        For more tips you could read this handout for Government of South Australia (4)


Dental Care

If you like having bright and shiny pearly white teeth, cutting back on sugar is an excellent idea. Bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar.  When sugar from food and drink ends up on the surface of your tooth, the bacteria ‘eats’ the sugar as energy to grow. Overtime plaque can build, which eats away at the tooth enamel, encouraging cavities and gum disease. If you would like to read more about dental health check out the Australian Dental Association website. (5)

Sugar tastes good

Sugar in foods naturally makes many nutritious foods taste delicious such as fruit, milk and even vegetables which encourages us to eat them. Vegetables would be very bitter without their small amounts of sugar they contain. Think about when you eat roast vegetables and even fry onions, the very small amounts of sugar caramelise and make them taste delicious.


No sugar guilt required

I want to be clear- there is no need to become hung up or feel guilty for eating foods that are high in sugar. We can enjoy some of any food and still be healthy. It is about your overall dietary habits and which foods you have most of. With a little knowledge about which foods and drinks are high in sugar and low in nutritional value you can then surround yourself with other, whole foods rich in nutrients instead. This makes it is easy to have your diet full of nourishing foods for your body and only a little room to enjoy others. You can still enjoy your favourite ice-cream!