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How to tell how much sugar a food contains

Posted Mar 09 2013 4:06pm
I think we sometimes do not know how to tell how much sugar a food contains. I know that parents sometimes are just not in the ‘know’ in terms of how much sugar foods that we eat on a daily basis contain, which in turn makes it hard to restrict this in our children’s diets.

Nutrition labels often tell you how much sugar a food contains. You can compare labels, and choose foods that are lower in sugar.

Look for the ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ figure in the nutrition label.

‘High: over 15g of total sugars per 100g
‘Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g


If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, then that is a medium level of sugars.

The sugars figure in the nutrition label is the total amount of sugars in the food. It includes sugars from fruit and milk, as well as the sugars that have been added.

A food containing lots of fruit or milk will be a healthier choice than one that contains lots of added sugars, even if the two products contain the same total amount of sugars. You can tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list (see below).

Sometimes you will see a figure for ‘Carbohydrates’, and not for ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’.

The ‘Carbohydrates’ figure will also include starchy carbohydrates, so you can’t use it to work out the sugar content. In this case, check the ingredients list to see if the food is high in added sugars.

Labels on the front of packaging

There are labels containing nutritional information on the front of some food packaging.

This includes traffic light labelling, and advice on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) of some nutrients, which can include sugar.

Traffic light labelling allows you to see at-a-glance if the food is high, medium or low in sugars.

Red = High
Amber = Medium
Green = Low


Some labels on the front of packaging will display the amount of sugar in the food as a proportion of the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA). GDAs are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients required for a healthy diet.

Ingredients list

You can get an idea of whether a food is high in added sugars by looking at the ingredients list. Added sugars must be included in the ingredients list, which always starts with the biggest ingredient.

This means that if you see sugar near the top of the list, you know the food is likely to be high in added sugars.

Watch out for other words that are used to describe added sugars, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup and honey.



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