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A Parent’s Guide to… sugar

This post has been updated (November 2022) to reflect the latest evidence and recommendations around sugar.   

Sugar is probably one of the most talked about topics when it comes to healthy eating. With so many terms thrown about; ‘low carb’ to ‘no added sugar’, ‘free sugars’ and more, it can get pretty confusing!

This guide will give you all the information you need to help you make more informed choices around sugar, along with how much we should be consuming! 


First things first, let’s break it all down. Sugar is a type of simple carbohydrates, and can be broken down into 2 types: 

  1. Free sugar– these are the added sugars we find in foods such as confectionary (sweets, biscuits, chocolate and cake), honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices.  
  1. Natural sugars – these are found in whole fruits, vegetables, plants and dairy products (unsweetened milks and yogurts) and typically we do not need to reduce the amounts of these foods that we eat.  


How much is too much?  

The current UK guidelines suggest: 

  • Children aged 4-6: no more than 19g (5 sugar cubes) 
  • Children aged 7-10: no more than 24g (or 6 sugar cubes) 
  • Aged 11+ (including adults): no more than 30g (or 7 cubes) 

For some, this may sound like a lot but if you were to have a bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast (around 11g), you would have already consumed nearly 50% of your recommended sugar intake for the day at age 4-6 and be 1/3rd there if you’re over 11! 

Read on for practical tips to reduce sugar intake…

A tin of heinz baked beans with no added sugar
No added sugar

Opt for ‘no added’ varieties of family favourites/cupboard essentials; such as squash, yoghurts, tomato ketchup and baked beans. This is definitely a quick win when it comes to reducing sugar consumption in the house. Look out for the low-sugar labels on the packaging to help make these swaps when you are next doing the weekly food shop.

Whilst there is still sugar present in “no added sugar” food products, there are no additional sugars added to the product e.g. orange juice with no added sugar still has the naturally occurring free sugars from the fruit, but no additional sugars have been added. Therefore, we should still be mindful of our sugar intake but they can be a much better option to choose from when available.

A picture of homemade pasta and tomato sauce
Make your own

Alternatively to choosing ‘no added sugar’, you could also make your own store-cupboard essentials – check out our recipes for sugar free pasta sauce, baked beans and tomato ketchup here.

Two very small snickers bars held in a small hand for scale
Funsize treats

If treat foods are to be included in your food shop, pick items which are already divided out into treat sized portions – such as mini chocolate bars, bitesized versions and minis. This will help manage the sugar content consumed in treats.

Mother having a conversation with her son
Talk about sugar

It is really important to emphasise the positive health benefits of reducing sugar – why it is important for our bodies and health, using positive language to provide an understanding. Avoid using negative language, such as ‘fattening’ or ‘bad’, to describe sugary foods. It is important to remember that it is not the type of food which is bad; it is the quantity and frequency people consume them in. Rather than demonising these food items, refer to them as an ‘occasional treat’ which should only be consumed in small portion sizes. 

A small carton of yoghurt for children
A word on yoghurt

Yoghurts can be a really useful convenient snack to pop in lunch boxes or to have after school as they provide a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D; all of which are essential for maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles. However yoghurt cleverly marketed for children tendto be sugar laden – so watch out for this and read the labels! Or better yet – have fun making your own flavours by adding fresh/frozen fruits to plain natural or Greek yoghurt and whizzing it up in a blender. 

A child filling in a non-food reward chart on a door in their house
Non-food rewards

Sweets and chocolate are often used in a family setting as a reward or bribe for good behaviour, however this can undermine the healthy habits you are trying to make, and can even begin to interfere with a child’s ability to regulate their own hunger by not listening to natural hunger cues. Instead, try exploring other types of non-food rewards to reinforce positive behaviour. Instead of a treat cupboard, why not create a lucky dip of inexpensive items like crayons, slime, bouncy balls, hair clips etc? And don’t forget that getting active can be a great way to explore alternate rewards and will get the family moving together – for example, weekend trips to the swimming pool.  

A mother and daughter baking at home
Homemade treats

Get the whole family involved with making healthier treats together. As well as it being a fun activity to do together, you are able to monitor the amount of sugar added to the recipe, try reducing sugar content by 25% or adding fruit to flavour and sweeten – this way you will be added some extra fibre and nutrients! 

A cold drink flavoured with kiwi

Avoid fizzy drinks and sugar laden squash by encouraging water consumption with funky water bottles/straws/infuser bottles which added fruit/mint to flavour.  

A selection of sweet treats such as M&Ms
Agree on treat rations

Saying no to treats can be really challenging at times. To help avoid unwanted conflict set a limit on the number of “occasional” treats eaten each week together as a family, this way expectations around what snacks are available and the number allowed across the week can be managed. Make sure there are more nutritious snacks available to provide a wider array of options and to get the kids trying new flavours!  

Don't restrict

Often what leads to us overindulging in sugary foods can be restrictions. Through exposing your children to low amounts of sugar more frequently, this helps the novelty wear off and means they are less likely to over consume their daily requirements. It may help to purchase confectionary in fun size or pre-portioned amounts to also help manage intake.