Managing sugar intake

There is concern about the amount of sugar we are consuming in the UK diet. Frequent consumption of sugary foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and tooth decay. 

What are sugars?

Sugars are simple carbohydrates that are easily absorbed by the body providing instant energy. When sugar first springs to mind it’s normal to think of the table sugar we add to foods and drinks but there are lots of different types of sugars naturally present in the foods and drinks that we consume. For example, fruit and vegetables, milk and milk products naturally contain sugar.


Types of sugar (in order of sweetness):

1. Fructose in fruits & honey

2. Sucrosein table sugar

3. Galactose in honey, fruit & vegetables

4. Glucose in honey fruit & vegetables

5. Maltosein barley

6. Lactosein milk & milk products

10 ways to reduce your sugar intake

1. Dilute fruit juices with still or sparkling water

2. Choose diet or sugar-free soft drinks OR just have water

3. Use fresh or dried fruit to sweeten foods such as cereal, porridge or yogurt

4. Gradually reduce the amount of sugar added to hot drinks

5. Choose wholegrain cereals instead of sugar or honey coated cereals

6. Opt for sliced banana, low-fat spread, low-fat cream cheese or houmous on toast, instead of
jams, syrups and honey

7. When baking use mashed bananas or stewed fruit to provide a more natural sweetness, reducing the amount of sugar needed.

8. Try halving the amount of sugar in recipes – this will work for most foods except meringues
and jams

9. Substitute cane sugar for honey, maple syrup or agave syrup. These are sweeter so you can use less - use 2/3 of your normal amount

10. Choose foods with green or amber traffic light labelling for sugar rather than red

Sugary drinks

Free & total sugars –
what does it mean?

Free sugars are those added to foods and drink by manufacturers, cooks or consumers. They also include the sugars found naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates.

Sugars found in fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen or dried) and in milk and milk products, such as in natural yogurt or cheese, are not considered as free sugars.

Nutrition labelling on food and drink includes all of the sugars they contain, regardless of where they come from. These are known as Total sugars and include any sugars that are naturally present, as well as those that have been added to the food or drink.

Total Sugars within a food or drink can contain:

- Free sugars that have been added to the food e.g. sweets and confectionery

- Natural sugars that are naturally present in the food e.g. plain yogurt

- Free and Natural sugars e.g. fruit yogurt can naturally contain sugar from the milk used to make the yogurt (lactose) and also from the fruit it contains (fructose), plus any sugars that have been added to sweeten

Why is sugar added to some food and drink products?

Sugar is added to foods and drinks for a variety of reasons:

- to enhance the taste

- to add texture

- to improve the appearance

- to extend shelf-life

Sugary fruits

For example, sugar is added to tomato sauce during manufacturing to balance the natural acidity of the tomatoes, creating a tastier product and extending the shelf-life.

How do I know how much sugar a food or drink contain?

There are 3 ways to check the amount of sugar in a product:

Nutrition labels

1. Front-of-pack label

Our traffic light labelling shows you ‘at a glance’ the amount of energy per 100g and per portion. The amount of fat, saturates, sugars (Total) and salt is displayed per portion, along with the percentage (%) contribution to the daily Reference Intake (RI). Information is colour coded green, amber or red; representing low, medium and high levels respectively.

2. Back-of-pack label

Legislation states that sugars listed in the nutrition panel must be ‘Total sugars’. This includes any ‘free’ plus ‘natural’ sugars.

3. Ingredients panel

The ingredients panel lists all the ingredients the food contains in decreasing order. So if sugar appears towards the end of the ingredient list then the product contains less sugar. There are also other descriptions for sugars. One of the easiest ways to recognise sugar on the label is to look for the suffix ‘ose’.

Sugars ending in ‘ose’ include:

- Sucrose - Maltose - Dextrose - Fructose - Galactose - Lactose 
- High fructose corn syrup - Glucose solids - Crystalline sucrose

Sugars can also be listed as:

- Cane sugar - Honey - Brown sugar - Fruit juice concentrate - Corn syrup - Nectars - Molasses

What are we doing to reduce the amount of sugar in our food and drinks?


Since work began in January 2016, we have decreased the sugar in our breakfast cereals by an average 15%. That's equivalent to the removal of 22 million teaspoons sugar per year.

We've lowered the sugar in our soft drinks by an average 40% and our yogurts and soups have undergone a significant decrease.

We’ve even cut the sugar in 15 Waitrose chilled desserts by an average of 14%. That’s equivalent
to 9.6 million teaspoons of sugar saved per year.

Sugar reduction continues to be an important part of our nutrition strategy. With our suppliers we are gradually reducing the amount of sugar in Waitrose Own Brand products, without compromising on taste, quality or nutrition.