Sugar – it’s often added to foods and drinks in order to make them sweeter and more appealing, whilst it can also occur naturally in some foods. Most adults and children in the UK eat too much sugar, which NHS England warns can contribute to excess weight gain and tooth decay, with a can of cola a can often containing as much as 9 cubes of sugar – more than the recommended daily limit for adults!
In Plymouth, there are particular concerns around children’s dental health in relation to levels of tooth decay, with the Plymouth Report 2023 revealing the alarming statistic that 332 children aged one to 16 years living in Plymouth had teeth removed under general anaesthetic in 2020/21.
There are numerous different types of sugars, as outlined here by Action on Sugar, so which are the main culprit? The type of sugars we commonly consume too much of when we eat and drink is what is known as free sugars.
- Free sugars are:
Any sugars added to food or drinks. These include sugars in biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks. These sugars may be added at home, or by a chef or other food manufacturer.
- Sugars in honey, syrups (such as maple, agave and golden), nectars (such as blossom), and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies. The sugars in these foods occur naturally but still count as free sugars.
Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables does not count as free sugars. We do not need to cut down on these sugars, but be aware that they are included in the “total sugar” figure found on food labels.
The government recommends that free sugars – sugars added to food or drinks, and sugars found naturally in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purées – should not make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day.
- Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes)
- Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes)
- Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes)
- There’s no guideline limit for children under the age of 4 but it’s recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it
How caterers can help: get sugar smart
There are lots of ways that caterers can take action to reduce the levels of free sugars in the food and drink products they are serving.
Inform yourself about ingredients and products on sale
Always look at the nutritional information to find out how much sugar is in your ingredients and packaged retail products.
A product or ingredient is considered as being high in sugar if it has more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g. It is considered low in sugar with 5g of total sugars or less per 100g. Find a full breakdown of how to interpret information about sugar content here on the NHS England website.
What about sweeteners?
Sweeteners are increasingly being used as a sugar alternative. NHS England states that in general, everyone should be eating less sugar but lower or no calorie sweeteners can be a useful alternative for people who want to reduce their sugar intake, while maintaining a sweet taste. This might be particularly relevant for those with health conditions such as diabetes.
Lots of drinks labelled ‘no added sugar’ or ‘zero calories’ instead use sweeteners. These sweeteners can be:
- Man-made, such as aspartame and saccharin
- Natural, such as those made from stevia (often listed as steviol or xylitol)
Drinks with sweeteners:
- Contain much fewer calories
- Are not recommended for children under five
- Contain citric acid, which is bad for teeth (and also found in other drinks)
- Are not recommended as a regular drink because of their limited nutritional value
If you are using sweeteners to replace sugar as an ingredient, try to use a natural sweetener where possible. For more information about sweeteners in food and drinks, visit the NHS England website here.
In the kitchen
- Switch or adapt existing recipes to ones that use less sugar
- Offer fruit and other low sugar and savoury alternatives instead of sugary snacks and puddings, such as plain scones, breadsticks, unsalted nuts, oat or rice cakes, no added sugar yoghurts, small portions of cheese
- Sell half or smaller portions of sweet items such as cakes and desserts
- Reduce the amount of icing on any cakes and cupcakes
- Consider using fresh fruit, dried fruit or nuts as ice cream toppings, rather than sprinkles or syrups
- Offer reduced sugar syrups as standard in hot drinks or on ice-creams
- Minimise or opt not to offer additions such as marshmallows and other toppings for hot drinks and desserts
- Offer free tap water – the healthiest option!
- Ensure that low sugar drinks have no more than 5g total sugars per 100g or 100ml
- Inform yourself about which drinks are high in sugar (such as colas, lemonades, sodas, sports and energy drinks) by checking the product label and be aware that some labels may state amounts by portion of rather than a whole container
- Ensure that bottled water is cheaper than the sugary soft drinks you sell – this could involve increasing the price that you sell sugary soft drinks at
- Consider offering homemade naturally flavoured water (using citrus or herbs), homemade unsweetened iced teas, or milk as options
- Stock unsweetened fruit juice drinks for children which are diluted with water to avoid excessive sugar consumption
At the table
- Remove sugar from customer tables so that it has to be requested rather than being readily available
- Stock half teaspoon sized sachets for drinks upon request
- Provide natural sweeteners as an alternative to sugar, such as stevia syrup
Further resources to help you get sugar smart
Follow these links for further information about how to reduce sugar in food and drinks and the impacts that too much sugar can have.
Resource created: November 2023