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How much sugar can I eat in a day?

Sugar. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? The white crystals that is 'in everything nowadays'? Even seemingly 'healthy' foods? I even had someone told me that they found sugar in plan milk. When I asked them HOW they come to that conclusion, I was told that they read the food label. But wait. There is no sugar in the milk of course. This got me thinking - maybe a lot of people is confused about the word sugar and what is on the food label as 'sugars'.

Most people would consider sugar as the evaporated crystal of cane sugar. It is a disaccaride of glucose and fructose. In the food label, specifically the nutrition panel, 'sugars, however, is a term that refer to other types of carbohydrate as well. These include fructose (from fruit), lactose (from milk) and yes sucrose from cane sugar. As a result, you will see a number under 'sugars' even in the plain old milk. But that number refers to lactose, not cane sugar.

The WHO sets a recommendation of free sugars intake to 10% of daily total energy requirement. Read the press release here. A further restriction to 5% is suggested in the same press release, presented as 'conditional'. Notice the word 'free' in the recommendation. What the word 'free' is referring to is the added sugars such as sucrose (as cane sugar) and fructose (in some 'sugar free' drinks). It is not referring to the sugars that is already bounded in the whole fruit such as i.e. fructose bounded inside a whole fruit and lactose bounded inside milk.

As a consumer, there is no way to figure out exactly how much cane sugar is added as it is presented as part of the sugars in the label. For example, a fruit containing yoghurt will typically contains three types of carbohydrate - lactose (yoghurt), fructose (fruit) and sucrose (cane sugar). What we can do though is to to check the ingredient list on the food label. If the food label list sugar as one of the top three ingredients, maybe it is time to choose one with sugar listed further down the ingredient list.

It may take some time to read the food label, but the benefits to your health and your family's will be well worth it.


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Shirley Chan

Consultant Dietitian 

Accredited Practising Dietitian

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Shirley Chan Consultant Dietitian ABN 41 009 192 602