How many teaspoons of sugar per day? The answer to this depends upon your total energy (kilojoule) requirements and how you eat your added sugar — do you add honey to your tea, drink soft drink or eat commercially prepared cakes?
World Health Organisation sugar guidelines
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released their expert sugar guidelines in early March 2015. The guidelines recommend that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars, which excludes sugars in fruits, vegetables and milk, to less than 10% of their total energy intake. They also suggest a further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25grams (6 teaspoons of sugar) per day. The recommendations are based on research concerning body weight and dental health.
What do the sugar guidelines mean?
The recommendation to have less than 12 or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day is based on someone who requires 8,700kJ per day. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4g in weight and 70 kilojoules (19 calories). Some of us need less than this, and to meet overall nutritional requirements I suggest an initial goal of 10 teaspoons, and then reducing to 5 teaspoons or less of free sugars. Filling up on foods and drinks containing free sugars, means that you are missing out on the health benefits of whole foods.
Not all sugars are equal
The term ‘sugars’ includes those contained within the natural structures of fruits and vegetables and those contained in milk (lactose and galactose). Free sugars are monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and drinks during food preparation and processing, as well as sugars naturally present in honey, sugar syrups, fruit juices and concentrated fruit juice.
How do you find free sugars in your foods and drinks?
The teaspoons of sugar that you add to your drinks, foods and during cooking and baking are easily identified. The free sugars in manufactured foods are more difficult to identify, as food labels only list total sugars in the nutrition panel. However if sugar is listed in the ingredients list of a product, then you know that your food or drink contains free sugars.
- 600ml bottle of sweetened soft drink contains 15 to 16 teaspoons of free sugars.
- 200ml carton of fruit juice contains about 5 teaspoons of free sugars.
- 200ml chocolate flavoured milk contains 2 to 3 teaspoons of free sugars.
- 200g of sweetened non-fruit yoghurt contains 2 to 3 teaspoons of free sugars.
It’s not just about sugar
When selecting commercially prepared cakes, baked goods and confectionary, not only do we need to account for the added sugar, but also the amount and type of flour, fat and other ingredients.
125g slice of commercially prepared banana bread has double the total sugar of a 125g banana, but 4 ½ times the kilojoule content (from added free sugars, flour and fat).
Tips to reduce your teaspoons of sugar
- Swap soft drinks, cordial and fruit juice for water or mineral water. For flavour add slices of lemon, lime or orange.
- Fix a chocolate craving with a milk cocoa drink — a chilled drink during the afternoon or a hot mug in the evening.
- Fresh fruit is a great substitute for cakes and biscuits. Or you might like to try my fruit muffin recipe — simply delicious.
- If you are still hungry after your evening meal, an easy and tasty dessert option is preserved or canned fruit topped with oven baked muesli and custard or plain yoghurt.
- Swap lollies with a serve of mixed dried fruit and nuts. Dried fruits are sticky, so cleaning your teeth afterwards is recommended to reduce dental decay.
- If you add sugar or honey to your tea or coffee, gradually reduce the amount you add e.g. move from 2 teaspoons to 1½ , or 1 to ½ teaspoons until you can enjoy a sugar free drink.
It takes time for your taste buds to adjust to less intensely sweetened drinks and foods. A gradual step-by-step approach is recommended, and soon you will be enjoying the benefits of eating less sugar — sustained energy, better health and greater sense of clarity.