Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
Avoid Hidden Sugars

In 2018 the ‘sugar tax’ came into force with the aim of encouraging companies to reformulate soft drinks. So far 50% of companies have reformulated their drinks to reduce the sugar content. Although this is a step in the right direction critics have said that other food and drinks containing sugar also need to be targeted. So what are the hidden sugars and why are they bad for us?


Types of sugar

  • Added sugar– this is the sugar that has been added during processing or cooking to sweeten different foods and drinks. It includes both your standard table sugar as well as honey, syrups and fruit juice nectars. This is the sugar that we should aim to reduce in our diets.
  • Fruit and veg– the sugar in whole fruit and veg is naturally occurring, plus they also contain the essential vitamins and minerals our body needs as well as being high in fibre. We should aim to eat at least 5 portions a day. Try and aim for 3 veg and 2 fruit.
  • Dairy and alternatives – the sugar in milk (lactose) is naturally occurring. We should aim to have around 3 portions of dairy and alternatives each day. However stay clear of flavoured yogurts and milks as these often contain added sugar and when choosing dairy alternatives look for unsweetened, calcium enriched versions.
  • Juices and smoothies– these are often high in free sugars. When we blend our fruit and veg these free sugars are released. These are then treated by the body in the same way that added sugar would be. Instead we should try and eat our fruit and veg whole or if we really fancy a fruit juice, keep to no more than 150ml per day.

Hidden sugar

Although it may be obvious that there are high amounts of sugar in foods such as chocolate, biscuits, sweets and fizzy drinks, many foods that we may not suspect can contain high amounts of sugar.

Some of these include

  • Ready-made soups and sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Breakfast and granola bars
  • Flavoured yogurts
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Flavoured coffees

Sugar swaps

Sugary breakfast cereals Plain porridge or plain whole-wheat cereals with added fruit such as bananas, strawberries or apple.
Fruit flavoured yogurts/ low fat yogurts Natural yogurt/ plain Greek yogurt with added fruit
Fizzy drinks Water, Semi-skimmed milk or low sugar drinks
Biscuits Plain rice cakes with a tablespoon of natural peanut or almond butter


Stay sugar savvy

Let’s be honest it’s impossible to avoid sugar altogether but below are a few tips on how to reduce your intake.

  • When shopping skip the sweet isle and try not to keep sweet treats in the house.
  • Have a look at the food labels. Some foods may display the traffic light labelling system helping you to choose foods that are low in sugar.
  • Try making your own homemade soups and sauces. That way you’ll be able to avoid any unwanted added sugars.
  • Watch out for disguised sugars. Although it may not be spelt out on the ingredients list, added sugars can also come in the form of sucrose, glucose, maltose, molasses, invert sugar, corn syrup or honey.