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

The daily sugar allowance varies for children and adults and it's important to take note of the guidelines so that your family can live a healthy lifestyle.

Knowing your daily sugar allowance might not seem like a priority but given how many new alarming reports crop up all the time, it’s worth paying attention to your daily sugar intake. Once you know what sugar allowance you and your children can have, it’s important to try and not exceed it.

How much sugar are we eating then?

Public Health England recently revealed that children in the UK exceed the maximum recommended sugar intake for an 18-year-old by the time they are 10.

The shocking statistic is based on their sugar consumption from the age of two.

According to experts, UK children are consuming eight additional sugar cubes per day above the recommended amount. That’s a whopping 2,800 excess sugar cubes a year!

A PHE survey from 2018 identified sugar-laden soft drinks, cakes and pastries as the main culprits of excess sugar in children’s diets.

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

  • Sugary soft drinks (e.g. squash, juice drinks, energy drinks and fizzy drinks) – 10%
  • Buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies – 10%
  • Sugars, including table sugar, preserves and sweet spreads – 9%
  • Biscuits – 9%
  • Breakfast cereals – 8%
  • Chocolate confectionary – 7%
  • Sugar confectionary – 7%
  • Yoghurt, fromage frais and other dairy desserts – 6%
  • Ice cream – 5%
  • Puddings 4%

The NHS have also revealed that most adults and children are eating way above the daily sugar allowance. These are added to food or drinks and can appear in items such as biscuits, chocolates, yogurts and more. Free sugars can also be found in things like honey and syrup and although they are natural, they should still be consumed in moderation.

The World Health Organization has also linked excessive sugar intake to childhood obesity. It’s worth taking note of your child’s sugar consumption as another recent report from PHE’s 2019 Health Profile for England warned that four in ten children aged 11 will be overweight or obese in 2024.

Recommended daily sugar allowance: So how much sugar should children be having?

The NHS gives the following recommendations for children’s daily sugar allowance:

  • 4 to 6 year olds: 19g – that’s 5 sugar cubes of free sugars
  • 7 to 10 year olds: 24g – that’s 6 sugar cubes of free sugars
  • 11 years olds and adults: 30g – that’s 7 sugar cubes of free sugars

‘Free sugars’ or ‘added sugars’ 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.

So, just how much sugar is lurking in your child’s favourite food and drink?

Sugar in children’s drinks

daily sugar allowance

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Sugary drinks are blamed for 10% 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 an 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

But it isn’t just the obvious fizzy drinks that contain huge amounts of sugar. 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.

A 2016 from the University of London and University of Liverpool showed that of the 203 children’s drinks found in major supermarkets, most would receive a red-coloured label for sugars per 200 ml serving.

These included around 85 juices or smoothies that contain at least 19 grams of sugars – that’s a whole day’s sugar allowance in just one drink.

The NHS recommends water or plain milk for a zero risk option for children.

Sugar in children’s food

child eating toast: daily sugar allowance

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

Snacks

Lunchbox fillers are a common problem when it comes to sugar. You might think a fruit yoghurt seems like a healthy snack, but some brands contain as much as five 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:

Lunches
For packed lunches try to avoid sugary white breads, too. Hovis Soft White Thick 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.

Read more: 30 packed lunch ideas 

If your child likes pasta you could ditch sandwiches altogether in favour of a pasta box like our Sunshine Chunky Pasta. You can include lots of colourful veggies to help them on their way to five-a-day.

Need some inspiration for your own lunch? Check out these 56 healthy lunch recipes 

Dinners

child eating dinner: daily sugar allowance

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When it comes to dinner some common staples could also inject a huge sugar hit into kids’ diets, and it’s not just the mains! All the extras can add up towards a heavy dose of sugar if not counted carefully. For instance, did you know Heinz ketchup contains nearly a teaspoon of sugar in every 15ml? If your kids are dead set on ketchup with their chips (like 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.

As a general rule, making your own healthy family meals from scratch is the best option for a balanced diet because you can see exactly what is going into it.

MORE: Explore 160 low calorie meals the whole family will love! 

Desserts
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

If you’re ready to get started with your family’s new lower-sugar diet then head to the Change 4 Life website, where you can find plenty of useful resources on its website, including a sugar calculator and an app you can download straight to your device and use to scan food labels while out shopping.

Chief nutritionist for Public Health England Dr Alison Tedstone said: ‘Children are consuming too much sugar, but parents can take action now to prevent this building up over the years.’ Search ‘Change4Life’ online to download the free app and get more hints and tips to cut down on sugar