Breakfast? There goes your daily recommended sugar intake

It is hard to find the sweet stuff hidden in the small print on many food products

It is important to note that not all sugars are created equally. The two main types found in food are the naturally occurring ones – like the lactose found in milk – and the added ones, including the sweet stuff from concentrated sources such as fruit juice.

According to the World Health Organisation, only 5 per cent of a person's daily calorie intake should be made up of added sugars. This works out at about five teaspoons or about 30g.

Even people without a sweet tooth in their head can end up consuming a lot of added sugar by eating everyday processed foods, including breakfast cereals, bread, soups and pasta sauce. Just how much sugar is in these foods is often hidden in the small print, so it can be hard for consumers to make informed decisions.

Nutrition panel

If you want to know how much sugar is in the processed food you buy, you need first to identify the “carbohydrates as sugars” information on the nutrition panel. This includes natural and added sugars. If the number is less than 5g per 100g, it is on the low side. If there is more than 15g per 100g, it is very much on the high side.


Another thing to look out for are words ending in “ose”, so keep an eye out for fructose, glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose. The higher up the ingredients list they appear, the more sugar is in the product. Also be aware that many “low-fat” and “diet” foods have higher levels of sugar in order to make them more palatable.

So how much sugar could a person consume in a day without really thinking about it? Let’s start our day with what looks like a healthy breakfast of Kellogg’s Special K, toast with marmalade and a glass of orange juice.

A 50g bowl of Special K contains 6g of sugar – the manufacturer claims that a portion is 30g, but independent assessments from regulatory authorities indicate that most people eat substantially more than that.

Two slices of Tesco Family Crusty White Bread will have about 3.4g of sugar, while a single 20g serving of Fruitfield Old Time Irish Coarse Cut Marmalade contains 12.8g of sugar. A 150ml glass of Tropicana orange juice, meanwhile, has 15g of sugar.

With just one meal finished, 37.2g of sugar have been consumed. That is more than a man’s total daily allowance and the day has barely started.

Soup and bagel

If lunch is made up of just half a can of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup (9.7g) and a solitary plain bagel from the New York Bakery (4.4g), then the almost incidental sugar intake for the day rises to 51.3g.

Assuming dinner is made up of a pretty modest portion of lasagne made with Dolmio lasagne sauce (6.4g), Roma lasagne sheets (3g) and béchamel sauce (4.8g), the calorie count reaches 65.5g.

A fairly healthy sounding Glenisk blackberry no-fat Greek protein yogurt for dessert will add 7.7g of sugar to the total, while just two Fox's chocolate ring biscuits see the sugar levels climb by 16.6g.

All told, then, the sugar intake on this day – and without so much as a spoon of sugar in a cup of tea – comes in at 89.8g, or almost four times what is recommended for an adult woman.

And we haven’t even started on the salt intake.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast