What sugars are free sugars?

Free sugar is what we call any sugar added to a food or drink. Or the sugar that's already in honey, syrup and fruit juice. They're free because they're not inside the cells of the food we eat. The SACN recommended that sugars naturally present in fruits and vegetables that have been mixed, pulped, pureed, extruded or powdered be treated as free sugars on the basis that the cellular structure has broken down (; but that sugars naturally present in other types of processed fruits and vegetables (dried, canned (except juice or syrup), stews or pressed) do not fall within the definition of free sugars.

The fruits and vegetables in some products are processed by more than one method. If one of the methods used is included in the definition of free sugars (Table), then fruit or vegetable sugar is treated as free sugars. Thus, for example, nuts that have been pureed or extruded would be included as free sugars. The SACN also reported that there was no scientific basis for treating vegetable sugars differently from fruit sugars.

On this basis, the definition of free sugars includes sugars in tomato puree and other vegetable purees, pastes and powders, fruit purees, pastes and powders and sugars in extruded fruit products, but not products made from pressed nuts. Free sugars include honey, syrups and nectars, whether added to products during manufacturing or by the consumer. This includes ingredients such as malt extract and glucose syrup, added lactose and galactose as ingredients and all sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, shakes, purees, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products. Also included are all sugars in beverages, such as alcoholic beverages and nut-based beverages, alternatives to dairy products.

However, milk and other dairy-based beverages are not included. For example, 11 oranges can be squeezed into 900 ml of juice and can contain 10 to 15 g of free sugars per 150 ml. Keep in mind that these are included, along with free sugars, in the total sugar figure you'll see on food labels. The number of sugars describes the total amount of sugars from all sources: free sugars, plus those in milk and those found in fruits and vegetables.

Based on my experience with nutritional analysis, several “sugar-free” recipes that use dates as sweeteners contain more sugar than the original recipes that use regular sugar. International recommendations suggest that the intake of free sugar should not represent more than 5% of the daily energy intake. To prevent tooth decay, reduce the amount of foods and beverages that contain free sugars (such as candies, chocolates, pastries, cookies, sugary breakfast cereals, jams, honey, fruit shakes and nuts) and limit them at mealtime. This means that foods containing fruit or milk will be a healthier option than one that contains a lot of free sugars, even if both products contain the same total amount of sugar.

You can get an idea of whether a food is high in free sugars by consulting the list of ingredients on the package. The use of a more detailed quantitative ingredient specification will allow for a more accurate evaluation of the free sugar content. However, lactose or galactose added to foods as an ingredient have been included in the definition of free sugars. This includes sugars in soft drinks, fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies, alcoholic beverages, and also sugars found naturally in alternative dairy beverages, such as soy, nut, rice and oats beverages.

The Public Health England definition of free sugars responds to the need for a practical definition that can be easily applied to NDNS food codes using the information available on product labels and that is not based on detailed product specifications. .

Shelley Musselman
Shelley Musselman

Avid social media fan. Award-winning coffee specialist. Subtly charming coffee enthusiast. Total bacon fan. Total pizza guru.

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