Expert nutritionists recommend halving sugar in diet

Last updated:
17 July 2015
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has advised the government to halve the recommended intake of free sugars to help address the growing obesity and diabetes crises and to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

SACN, an independent body of expert nutritionists, was asked by the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency to examine the latest evidence on the links between consumption of carbohydrates, sugars, starch and fibre and a range of health outcomes – such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, bowel health and tooth decay – to ensure the government’s position was up-to-date.

In particular, SACN advises:

  • the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should be minimised
  • to increase fibre in the diet by having more fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods
  • starchy carbohydrates should still form basis of your diet

Free sugars are those added to food, for example sucrose (table sugar) and glucose, or those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. However they exclude lactose in milk and milk products.

Free sugar

In its final 'Carbohydrates and Health' report, SACN recommended free sugars account for no more than 5% of a person’s daily energy intake. This is:

  • 19g or 5 sugar cubes for children aged 4 to 6
  • 24g or 6 sugar cubes for children aged 7 to 10
  • 30g or 7 sugar cubes for 11 years and over based on average population diets.

They also recommended that:

  • The term 'free sugars' is adopted, replacing the terms 'Non Milk Extrinsic Sugars' (NMES) and 'added sugars'.
  • The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (eg fizzy drinks, soft drinks and squash) should be minimised by both children and adults.

This is because when reviewing the evidence, SACN found that:

  • high levels of sugar consumption are associated with a greater risk of tooth decay
  • the higher the proportion of sugars in the diet, the greater the risk of high energy intake
  • drinking high-sugar beverages results in weight gain and increases in BMI in teenagers and children
  • consuming too many high-sugar beverages increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Carbohydrates and fibre

The SACN report also looked at the amount of carbohydrates and fibre being consumed, and the link to health outcomes and recommended that:

  • the current recommendation that starchy carbohydrates, wholegrain where possible, should form 50% of daily calorie intake is maintained
  • those aged 16 and over should have their intake of fibre increased to 30g a day, those aged 11 to 15 - to 25g , those aged 5 to 11 - to 20g, and children aged 2 to 5 - to 15g .