Sugar allowance: How much sugar should children REALLY eat and drink?

It’s not news that everyone should be careful with their sugar intake per day, but with shocking new figures revealing children are eating their body weight in sugar per year, how much is too much?

Sugar seems to be the public enemy number one nowadays, and rightly so. It’s hidden in a lot of unexpected foods such as bread, kids’ breakfast cereals and salad dressings, and can cause obesity, diabetes, heart problems and even some cancers when eaten in excess.

A recent Birmingham University study found that on average, kids are consuming 75g of sugar a day, or 19 teaspoons. That’s four times their recommended daily allowance – and many parents don’t realise the worst offenders.

According to the research, this is where the average make-up of this high intake of sugar is coming from:

Fizzy drinks, squash and fruit drinks: 24.8%
Fruit juice/smoothies: 15.4%
Cakes, buns, sponge puddings: 8.1%
Yogurt, fromage frais: 6.9%
Sweets, toffees, mints: 5.1%
Chocolate bars: 4.8%
Chocolate biscuits: 3.2%
Jelly, ice lollies: 3.2%
Ice cream, frozen dessert: 3.1%
Sweet spread, jam, honey: 3.1%
Sugar coated cereal: 2.7%
Other biscuit: 2.6%
Cereal bar, muesli bar, flapjack: 2.1%
Other foods, each less than 2%: 12.3%

And it seems that breakfast foods are some of the worst offenders, a meal time that parents need to be particularly mindful of. Research from Public Health England has shown that children consume half of their recommended maximum daily sugar allowance just at breakfast.

A study based on the annual National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that children eat and drink at least three cubes of sugar before they go to school, mainly in sugary cereals, drinks and spreads. But even more shockingly, the research also showed that parents think the breakfasts they’re serving are healthy.

So how much sugar SHOULD children be having?

Figures from Public Health England have revealed that four to 10 year olds consume the average weight of a five year old in sugar per year – that’s around 22kg or over 5,500 sugar cubes a year.

In a campaign to help parents control how much sugar kids eat, Public Health England have clarified how many grams of sugar a day children should be having.

Recommended maximum daily added sugar intake for children:

4 to 6 year olds: 19g, that’s 5 sugar cubes – 7 to 10 year olds: 24g, that’s 6 sugar cubes – 11 years old or older: 30g, that’s 7 sugar cubes

‘Added sugar’ means sugar that has been added to food and drink to sweeten it by a food manufacturer, chef, or by you while cooking or preparing. 

The campaign also reveals the shocking sugar content in the everyday food and drink kids love.

Sugar in children’s drinks

Juice drinks
Some of the most surprising things that contain a lot of sugars are fruit juice drinks and smoothies, often given to children in the thought that they are healthy – contributing to their five a day.

This common idea has also been challenged recently, with experts advising that fruit juices and smoothies can only be counted as one portion of fruit, no matter the quantities drunk.

To examine the quantities of sugar in fruity drinks experts from the University of Liverpool and Queen Mary University of London looked at the content of the sugar in fruit drinks aimed at children, and found that 64% had at least half of a child’s maximum daily sugar intake.

Other options examined had even higher levels of sugar, too. For example, a small carton or pouch of juice drink contains over five cubes, which is the daily allowance for four, five and six year olds.

The experts recommended that parents should limit children’s fruit juice intake to less than 150ml a day, dilute it with water and look for unsweetened options.

Other children’s drinks
Sugary drinks are blamed for 30% of the sugar in children’s diets, like fizzy pop, juice drinks, squashes, cordials, energy drinks and juice. In a can of cola, there are as astounding NINE sugar cubes, which is more than any children should have per day.

But which fizzy drinks are the worst offenders? Find out here

Sugar in children’s food

Even foods you might not immediately suspect as having sugar in them can be hiding it – with plenty of kids’ favourites containing lots of of the sweet stuff.

Lunchbox fillers are a common problem when it comes to sugar. You might think a Muller Crunch Corner seems like a healthy yogurt snack, but it actually contains six teaspoons of sugar per pot! Instead look for naturally sweetened fruit yogurts or plain Greek yogurt, if your kids like it.

On the whole it’s a good idea to swap shop-bought snacks like crisps, cereal bars and biscuits for the homemade kind, so you know exactly what goes into them. Some easy but tasty ideas include:

  • Flavoured rice cakes
  • Homemade popcorn
  • Dried fruit
  • For when you’re pushed on time we’ve rounded up the healthiest ready-made kids’ snacks around.

    For packed lunches try to avoid sugary white breads, too. Hovis White Bread, for example, has nearly half a teaspoon of sugar in every slice. Double that for a sandwich and add the fillings and your child is well on their way to the max recommended limit. Try to use wholegrain bread instead, and check the packets to see which option has the lowest sugar.

    If your child likes rice you could ditch sandwiches altogether in favour of a trendy Bento Box. These little boxes are fun-looking so will encourage kids to eat all their lunch. You can include lots of colourful veggies, brown rize and a few treat bits like cheese and ham.

    When it comes to tea time dinner some common staples can also inject a huge sugar hit into kids’ diets, and it’s not just the mains either. All the extras can add up towards a heavy dose of sugar if not counted carefully. For instance, did you know Heinz ketchuo has a teapoon of sugar in every 15ml? If your kids are dead set on ketchup with their chips (liks ours are) then make sure they know it’s a treat, and not to be eaten with every meal. Other common favourites that are hiding plenty of sugar are:

  • Tinned soups
  • Ready-made pizzas
  • Pasta sauces
  • Where you can, try making your own. Homemade tomato sauce can be made in bulk and used for both pizza and pasta dinners. Plus, the kids will love helping you cook from scratch.

    It’s no surprise that desserts contain sugar, but instead of banishing all treats just make smarter choices for your little ones. For instance, frozen mango blitzed in a food processor makes a delicious sorbet-like dessert and fruit compote with a little cream goes down a treat.

    Whatever you choose, just make sure you’re checking all the labels to make the best decision for your family.

    Change 4 Life sugar-checking app


    Change4Life campaign video

    If you’re ready to get started with your family’s new lower-sugar diet then you’ll love this app.

    As part of the same Change 4 Life campaign, a very helpful free app has been launched that will make food shopping a lot easier.

    With ‘Sugar Smart’, users can scan barcodes of products to see its sugar content in cubes and grams, and quickly pick the healthiest options for your children, like these low-sugar fruit snacks.

    Chief nutritionist for Public Health England Dr Alison Tedstone said children are having three times the maximum recommended amount, which can lead to serious health and general wellbeing consequences.

    ‘This can lead to painful tooth decay, weight gain and obesity, which can also affect children’s wellbeing as they are more likely to be bullied, have low self-esteem and miss school.’ Search ‘Change4Life’ online to download the new free app and get more hints and tips to cut down on sugar.