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Simple sugar guide: how to read labels for added sugar

170524_TSF_BlogHero_01We know most Aussies are consuming too much added sugar – though how much more depends on your age, with teen boys among the worst for excessive consumption!1

What then, is one of the simplest ways to get that added sugar consumption down?

Reading labels.

And here is our three-step guide as to how!

One: Look for foods under 5g total sugar/100g
In Australia, the nutrition information panel lists the total amount of sugars, and does not separate natural from added sugars. While we hope this will change in future, for now, remember:

  • Naturally occurring sugars from whole foods like whole fruit or dairy are not considered an added sugar
  • Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar in dairy, and amounts of lactose in dairy products vary – there is little in hard cheeses, but more in milk and yoghurt. On average for milk and yoghurt, there are 4-5g (roughly 1 teaspoon) per 100g. If the label lists much over this, there is a good chance the remaining sugar is added.
  • Reading the ingredient list will indicate how much sugar or sweetener has been added to the product, which brings us to our next point.

Two: Check the ingredient list
There are over 60 different names for added sugars – which can be a daunting prospect to recall!

60 names for sugar

When scouring the ingredient list, the key things to keep in mind are:

  • The higher up the ingredient is on the list, the more added sugar there is! Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if you see a sugar lingering in first few ingredients, chances are the product is pretty high in the added sweet stuff.
  • Words such as ‘sugar’, ‘syrup’, ‘juice’, ‘concentrate’ or even ‘crystals’ one should be wary of.
  • Words ending in ‘-ose’ like glucose, fructose, dextrose or sucrose that are listed on a label are added sugars. Note: if they are naturally occurring, like glucose in whole fruit, it won’t be listed as an ingredient.

Three: Remember that 4g = 1 teaspoon of sugar
Technically, 4.2g = 1 teaspoon of sugar, but for the easy on-the-spot calculation, just remember 4g equals one teaspoon. For example, a 375ml can of Coca-Cola is about 40g of sugar. Dividing that by 4 means there are 10 teaspoons of added sugar in the one can.

Reading Labels V2

Finally, we want to aim for limiting intake of added sugar 6 teaspoons per day. That is 25g and recommended by the WHO for optimal health.

Happy label reading!

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)



  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Consumption of added sugars exceeds recommendations, viewed 18 May 2017, <[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.011~2011-12~Media%20Release~Consumption%20of%20added%20sugars%20exceeds%20recommendations%20(Media%20Release)~11>


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