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There’s been a lot of controversy about sugar recently, and we know that excessive consumption of sugar is bad for us and can lead to weight gain. However, some sugar is essential to a healthy diet but it’s important to differentiate between naturally occurring sugar (which can be healthy) and added sugar.

What is sugar?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. It can be called many different names on food labels, including glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, raw sugar, cane sugar, malt extract and molasses.

Naturally occurring sugar can be found in food and drink such as fruit and dairy products. Sugar is also often added during food processing, and cakes, biscuits, pastries and sugary drinks are examples of foods and drinks with high levels of added sugar.

Why do our bodies need sugar?

Sugar provides energy to the body.

What are the recommendations for sugar intake?

Naturally occurring sugar is obtained in a healthy and balanced diet through the consumption of vegetables, fruit and dairy products. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we limit the intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published guidelines in 2015, which recommend adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. The WHO defines free sugars as monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

When reading nutrition information on packaged foods, aim for products with 15g or less per 100g of sugar. Products with less than 5g per 100g are the healthiest choice.

What happens if we consume too much or too little sugar?

It is best to avoid large amounts of added sugar as it contributes to tooth decay and increases the risk of weight gain and therefore chronic disease.