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Action on Sugar

What is sugar?

Naturally occuring sugars

Naturally occurring sugars are found in whole fruit, vegetables and milk-based products and these are not considered harmful for health, although they still contain calories.

Free sugars

Free sugars include honey, syrups and nectars whether added to products during manufacture or by the consumer. This includes ingredients such as malt extract and glucose syrup, lactose and galactose added as ingredients and all sugars naturally present in fruit and vegetable juices, concentrates, smoothies, purees, pastes, powders and extruded fruit and vegetable products. All sugars in drinks are included too, such as alcoholic drinks and dairy-alternative nut-based drinks. However, milk and other dairy-based drinks are not included.

Free sugars are found in a wide range of foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, juices and fizzy drinks, and these can be detrimental to health, if consumed in excess. While foods such as fruit and dairy products can be a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre; foods containing free sugars often have very little or no nutritional benefit. Certain food and drink manufacturers claim their products are a good source of energy (e.g. energy drinks manufacturers) because their products contain added free sugars, this is misleading.  The body generates energy from carbohydrate which can be found in fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta and rice and there is no need whatsoever for added free sugars in our diets.

Fruit juices

Fruit juices are a significant source of free sugars, and contribute between 10-14% of free sugars consumption by children.  Processing juices excludes fibre, which concentrates the free sugars (fructose, sucrose and glucose), which speeds up their absorption in the body. For example 11 oranges can be squeezed into 900ml of juice and can contain 10-15g of free sugars per 150ml. Government advice is that one 150ml serving of any fruit juice counts towards one of your five a day servings (anything over 150ml does not count). We are calling for fruit juice to be removed from the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetable a day list, because of their high sugars content.


The amount of free sugars in a smoothie depends upon the ingredients and processing techniques, however we are concerned with the level of sugars. Unlike juices which are collected by squeezing, smoothies blend fruit (or vegetables) resulting in a thicker liquid. The amount of fibre contained in a smoothie depends on the intensiveness of the processing method, whether the skin of the fruit was included and whether fruit juices are also added. For a smoothie to be considered as 2 portions of a 5-a-day it must contain:

  • at least 80g of one variety of whole fruit and/or vegetable and at least 150ml of a different variety of 100% fruit and/or vegetable juice, or
  • a minimum of 80g of one variety of whole fruit and/or vegetable and at least 80g of another variety of whole fruit and/or vegetable.



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