Avoid Hidden Sugars - Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke
Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
Avoid Hidden Sugars

sugar-cubesHide and Seek – where is the sugar in your diet?

Go to work; go the gym; go out with friends. Our life styles are full of opportunities for us to unwittingly consume hidden sugars thus risking our waistlines and our health. We eat shop bought sandwiches or salads for lunch. We get home after the gym and heat up a ready meal or make dinner with a shop bought sauce as it is getting late and we are hungry. We go out at the weekend, trying to look our best, and fill ourselves full of more sugar, hidden in the drinks we buy.

Recently the government has announced plans to introduce a ‘sugar tax’ on fizzy drinks. Critics have said that this tax focuses on only one product group that is high in sugar and does not tackle the issue of hidden sugars across the range of food we eat. Supporters say it is a step in the right direction and is part of the education process, i.e. making the public aware that the foods and drinks they consume on a day to day basis contain levels of sugars that are harming their health.

Adults are advised not to eat more than 30g of free sugars a day, which is roughly seven sugar cubes. Children should have less than this. Free sugars are any sugars added to food or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that 27% of our daily sugar intake comes from confectionary, jams and table sugar. 25% is from non-alcoholic drinks and 20% is from biscuits, cakes and buns. More surprisingly is that alcoholic drinks account for 11%, dairy products 6% and savoury food 5%.

It comes as no surprise that chocolate, fizzy drinks, cakes, buns and other sweet treats are full of sugar. However, there are other surprising culprits that we might not think of as being “sugary”, mainly because they don’t taste that sweet.

So where are these hidden sugars? Here are some of the worst offenders:

Salad Dressing

We all know that fruit and veg are essential for diet and nutrition, and that salads are a very good way of getting our five a day. However, we need to be wary of the salad dressings that we are using, either the dressings that we add to home prepared salads or dressings on shop bought pre-prepared salads. Check how much sugar are in French dressings, vinaigrettes and low fat oil-based dressings. They can have added sugar to compensate and enhance the flavour. Look out for ingredients such as dextrose, honey, glucose and maltose which are essentially variations on sugar. For a lower-sugar option opt for a light homemade vinegar and olive oil dressing.

Soups and Sauces

Although they taste savoury not sweet, watch out for soups and cooking sauces. Many pasta sauces have between 6 and 12 grams of sugar per serving – the same amount as a slice of cake! Sweet and sour sauces can contain a whopping 20g of sugar per 100g.

Other table sauces that you might add to a meal, such as tomato ketchup, brown sauce and BBQ sauce are chock full of sugar – up to 27g per 100g. Of course, you are unlikely to eat 100g of them, but one of the problems with hidden sugars is that it is very difficult to keep tabs on how they are adding up throughout the day. Try adding flavour to your food with herbs and spices and leave the sauce bottles in your cupboard.

Breakfast smoothies

Smoothies are delicious. That’s a fact. But if you think getting your five-a-day from them is a good idea, you’d be wrong. Only the first 150ml (less than the average container they are sold in) counts as fruit and veg. After that it counts as a high sugar food. It is much better to get your five-a-day through eating “un-smoothied” fruit and veg as the blending process changes the nature of the sugars and reduces the beneficial properties of the fibre. Sorry!

Breakfast Bars and Yoghurts

Although they might make for a quick breakfast option in the morning, many breakfast bars and yoghurts contain a lot of sugar. Plain yoghurt contains naturally occurring sugars but often the fruity, highly flavoured yoghurts add lots of sugar to enhance and sweeten the flavour. Energy and granola bars can also be very deceptive and despite branding stating how ‘healthy’ they are, experts have warned that these bars often contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar. Sometimes they have only slightly less sugar than the well-known cereal advertised by a tiger, and we all know that’s not a health food!


Bread is not one of the biggest culprits when you look at it per 100g. However, when you are piling your plate up with toast, it is worth remembering that each slice contains around half a teaspoon of sugar.


The excessive amount of sugar that is present in alcoholic drinks is often overlooked, but not only is this damaging our liver, it is detrimental to our waistlines. In just one pint of cider there can be up to 20g of sugar and in rich spirits such as sherry there can be up to 20 grams in a double measure. Wine and beer have less sugar, but it is worth remembering that these are “empty calories”. They have no nutritional value at all and also decrease the body’s ability to burn fat. It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that we want to look good when we go out on a Saturday night, but what we drink when we are out makes it more difficult to stay looking good!