how much sugar should you eat?

Sugar is everywhere, and many of us are already in the habit of consuming too much of a good thing. In this post, we’ve got a few simple steps you can take to reduce your cravings in minutes.

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According to the NHS, British people eat 700g of sugar a week. That’s an average of 140 teaspoons per person. However, they recommend that sugar makes up no more than 5% of our total calorie intake. 

For most adults, 5% is the equivalent of about 30g of sugar a day - that’s around six teaspoons.  

Depending on your total calorie intake, it could mean five or six teaspoons for the average women and seven to eight for the average man. 

According to the charity Action on Sugar, this is the equivalent of a small glass of fruit juice and a flavoured yoghurt. 

This recommended intake is for what government advisors call ‘free’ sugars.  

Free sugars are all the sugars added to foods by manufacturers, cooks, and consumers, as well as sugars in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices.  

It doesn’t include those found naturally in fruits and vegetables, or the lactose in milk and dairy products. 

free sugar names 

Confusingly, free sugars have many names, including: 

  • sucrose 
  • glucose 
  • fructose 
  • maltose 
  • dextrose 
  • corn syrup (and other syrups such as agave syrup, date syrup, rice syrup etc) 
  • gydrolysed starch 
  • barley malt 
  • invert sugar 
  • molasses 

Most of these you’ll find on food labels. 

However, most food labels list the total sugar content of a food, rather than how much sugar is present naturally, and how much is added (aka free sugar). 

sugar and your health 

Eating too many sugary foods and drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks has been linked to weight gain in both adults and children. 

Diets high in sugar have also been linked to an increase in developing type 2 diabetes, a condition that’s associated with kidney disease; eye disease (including blindness); amputation; depression; sexual dysfunction; dementia, and pregnancy complications. 

And, as everyone who has ever paid attention to their dentist knows, sugary foods and drinks play a major role in the development of tooth decay. 

how to reduce your sugar cravings 

Cravings are a motivational state where you feel compelled to find and consume a particular substance, like chocolate. 

The more you try to put the craving out of your mind, the more you can’t stop thinking about it. And so, the stronger your craving gets. Until you give in and satisfy it. 

Trying to stop yourself from thinking about the thing you’re craving may seem like the right thing to do. But taking your mind off it is a far more powerful tool in the fight against cravings. 

distract yourself 

There are some situations where you don’t want to be distracted, such as when you’re driving, operating heavy machinery, or performing a surgical procedure. You also don’t want to use it to procrastinate. 

However, distraction can be healthy, like when dealing with cravings. Distractions redirect your thoughts to something that requires your full attention.  

You’re not saying no to yourself, you’re just delaying saying yes. 

Lots of studies have shown how effective distractions can be for curbing cravings. One by Plymouth University found that playing Tetris for just 3 minutes helped to diminish cravings!  

On average, research suggests cravings become weaker within about 15 minutes.  

To distract yourself, you could try: 

  • phoning a friend or talking to a colleague 
  • journaling 
  • going for a walk 
  • reading a book 
  • doing some push-ups/skipping/dancing 
  • meditating 
  • playing a game that requires your concentration 

start as you mean to go on 

Make the first meal of your day healthier by swapping high-sugar breakfast cereals for low or no-sugar foods such as unsweetened porridge or plain wholewheat cereal biscuits. 

This could help you cut 70g of sugar from your diet in just one week. 

If you still crave sugar at breakfast time, you could add some fruit to your porridge or cereal. 

drink smart 

Wherever possible, choose diet versions of soft drinks. 

Alternatively, you could make still or sparkling water more interesting with slices of cucumber, sprigs of mint, lemon slices, or berries and crushed ice. 

watch out for hidden sugars 

Many foods we don’t consider sweet can contain a surprising amount of sugar, such as pasta sauces, ready-made soups, ketchup, salad dressings, and even shop-bought bread. 

Try to get into the habit of checking food labels when you’re shopping. They may not reveal how much added sugars are included (only total sugars), but they can help you compare different products so that you can choose those with the lowest amounts. 

Also, watch out for low-fat foods - these often contain high amounts of added sugars. For instance, some lower-fat yoghurts can be sweetened with refined sugar, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, or fructose syrup. 

eat mindfully 

If you really want something sugary, be aware of how much you’re eating and savour it by eating slowly. 

switch to lower-sugar snacks 

Sometimes a switch can help with cravings while also being healthier.  

For instance, you could have a low-calorie hot chocolate drink instead of eating bar of chocolate. Or eat a natural yoghurt with added fruit instead of a sugar-sweetened yoghurt. 

If hunger often strikes when you’re out, keep some low-sugar snacks on you just in case. 

take things slowly 

Trying to cut out all sugars in your diet overnight is likely to have you heading for the biscuit tin by lunchtime.  

Be realistic when you make a change to your diet - you don’t have to go cold turkey. One change at a time will help you create a habit you’re more likely to stick to. 

how we can help  

As an occupational charity, we help the ICAEW community thrive by equipping individuals with the practical, emotional, or financial tools to manage whatever’s in front of them, from everyday situations to exceptional life-changing circumstances.  

Our vision is that everyone in the ICAEW community can fully participate in life. 

All of our services are free, impartial and strictly confidential.  

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