The hidden sugar in your diet

Siski Green / 02 March 2015

Find out which common foods contain surprisingly high amounts of sugar so you can keep your diet in check.



Dried fruit

With the average Brit consuming more than double the recommended amount of sugar, we take a look at where the sugar in your diet could be coming from.

The World Health Organisation recommends getting no more than 5% of your daily calorie intake from sugars, which equates to roughly 25g, but the average Brit ingests around 65g sugar each day - more than 15 teaspoons. 

Even if you avoid cakes, biscuits and chocolate, you might still be eating too much sugar. That's because there are sugars in fruit and some vegetables too, so even on the healthiest of diets you’re already ingesting sugar and that’s fine.

However, when you add to that the fact that many sugars are difficult to spot in foods because they’re given different names such as sucrose, cane juice 

Watch the sugar in barbecue sauces

Those barbecued chicken breasts might taste great but although the meat may be low in fat, you’re getting a lot more sugar in the sauce than you probably realise. There’s around a teaspoon and a half of sugar in every single tablespoon of barbecue sauce, even more in some sweeter brands.

Make your own sauce and you’ll have better control of the sugar content and always read the label of your sauce bottle. Similarly, other sauces like salad cream, salad dressings, sweet ‘n’ sour, Thai fish sauce, all contain high levels of sugar.

The high sugar content of yogurt

If you eat your yogurt natural, then you’re fine but as soon as a yogurt has fruit added or flavourings, it’s likely that sugar has also been added. Check the label and if it only gives sugar content per 100g rather than per serving, think of it this way: a teaspoon of sugar is around 4 grams, so if there are 10g of sugar per 100g you could eat two and a half teaspoons of sugar with every serving of yogurt. So try to buy natural yogurt and add your own fruit or sweeteners, or even make your own yogurt at home. 

Look for sugar-free cereal

Some cereals are so sugar-laden they’re actually sweeter, per gram, than biscuits or cake. For example, a cereal with 20g of sugar per 100g is sweeter than the average digestive biscuit (at around 17g) but you probably wouldn’t consider a stack of biscuits for breakfast as healthy!

Look for cereals without sugar added and if you still find you can’t live without the sweetness, add your own so you can control how much goes in. Be aware, too, that many cereals won’t list ‘sugar’ in the ingredients because the sweetness is added via other ingredients such as fruit juice concentrate, honey, malt extract or high-fructose corn syrup.

Discover the best healthy breakfasts

Be aware of the sugar content of bread

A slice of that delicious wholegrain sunflower-seed bread might seem like the ideal health food and in many ways it is, full of fibre and nutrients, but bread often contains a surprising amount of sugar, so check the label.

Most bread, white or brown, will contain between 2-4g of sugar per 100g but some wholemeal breads have added sugar put in to ‘mask’ the slightly bitter taste of bran.

Choose fresh fruit over dried fruit

Packets of dried berries, figs and grapes are usually found in healthfood shops or in the ‘healthfood’ section of the supermarket and, eaten in moderation, they are healthy, being full of vitamins, fibre and other nutrients. But because the nutrients are concentrated in a smaller product, because of the loss of water, you’ll find you can eat way more than you would if you at the same fruit fresh.

Plus, with those big handfuls of dried fruit, you’re also ingesting big spoonfuls of sugar. Some of that sugar comes from the fruit but there is often added sugar in products too.  

Find out how much sugar there is in tomato products

Baked beans, ready-made tomato sauces for pasta, and tomato ketchup are all foods that contain surprising amounts of sugar. Check the label and look for baked beans or tomato products with no sugar added or at least less than 5g of sugar per 100g. As 5g of sugar is a little more than a teaspoon of sugar, and you’re likely to eat more than 100g of sauce per meal (probably around 200g), that means more than two teaspoons of sugar with your main meal... and you haven’t even had dessert yet! 

For tomato ketchup, try a brand that contains the least sugar. But do be aware that even some low-sugar versions contain around 10g of sugar per 100g. That means that just two servings of low-sugar ketchup per day (a serving being one tablespoon, around 17g of ketchup, or one small sachet, for example) adds nearly a teaspoon of sugar to your daily intake. 

Is honey a healthy food?

Yes, honey is healthier than processed granulated sugar in the sense that it contains other health benefits that refined sugar does not but it’s still full of sugar! Every 100g of the stuff has 82g of sugar and in fact honey contains more calories per gram than refined sugar.

You might spot ingredients such as agave syrup, barley malt, malt extracts, coconut sugar and concentrated fruit juice on your labels too and with all of these you need to take care as they are sweeteners, containing high amounts of sugar.

Find out more about the health benefits of honey


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.