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How to cut down on sugar

5-minute read

You can cut down on sugars by eating fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes and biscuits, and drinking fewer sugary soft drinks.

Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but we don't need to cut down on these types of sugars.

Across a wide range of foods, however, including sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some soft drinks and juice drinks, sugar is added. These are the sugary foods that we should aim to reduce in our diets.

Why cut down on sugars?

Evidence shows that most adults and children consume more sugar than is recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet. Sugar should make up less than 10% of the energy we get from food, but many of us eat far more than that, mostly in ‘discretionary’ foods and beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, cordial, confectionary and cakes and muffins.

Many foods that include added sugars contain lots of kilojoules, so eating these foods often can contribute to someone becoming overweight.

Foods and drinks that have a lot of added sugars contain calories, but often have few other nutrients.

To eat a healthy, balanced diet, we should eat these types of foods only occasionally, and get a majority of our calories from other kinds of foods, such as starchy foods, fruits and vegetables.

Sugary foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay, especially if you eat them between meals. The longer the sugary food is in contact with the teeth, the more damage it can cause.

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The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because these sugars are contained within the structure of the fruit. But when fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released these sugars can damage teeth, especially if fruit juice is drunk frequently.

Tips to cut down on sugars

For a healthy, balanced diet, cut down on foods and drinks that contain added sugars.

These tips can help you cut down:

  • Instead of sugary soft drinks and juice drinks, go for water. One 375ml can of soft drink contains around 9 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Swap cakes or biscuits for a piece of fruit.
  • If you take sugar in hot drinks, or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether, or try using a natural honey.
  • Rather than spreading jam or honey on your toast, try a low-fat spread, sliced banana or low-fat cream cheese instead.
  • Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less sugar, or go for the low-sugar version.
  • Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes. It works for most things except jam, meringues and ice-cream.
  • Choose tins of fruit in juice or water rather than syrup.
  • Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, but not those coated with sugar or honey.

Nutrition labels and sugars

Nutrition labels often tell you how much sugar a food contains. You can compare labels, and choose foods that are lower in sugar. You may also be able to tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list.

Sometimes you will see a figure for 'Carbohydrates' but not for sugar(s). 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 get an idea of whether the food is high in added sugars.

Added sugars must be included in the list (which always starts with the largest ingredient). 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.

Labels on the front of packaging

There are also labels that contain nutritional information on the front of some food packaging.

This includes the daily intake labelling, a voluntary front-of-pack labelling scheme adopted by the food and beverage industry to make it easier for consumers to make informed dietary choices. This provides a better view of what's in your food and drink.

The Daily Intake Guide indicates the amount of energy (in kilojoules) and the amount (in grams) of protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium per serve of the product. The guide also shows how much of the recommended daily intake is included in one serve.

This makes it easy for consumers to see the relationship between a serve of food and their daily requirements. The recommendations are based on an average adult diet of 8,700kJ, including food and drink.

If you want to learn more about how to read these labels, check out the following resources:

More information

You can check out Eat for Health for Australian dietary guidelines or our healthy eating section.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2018

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