Buvette Masthead

How much sugar is too much?

Kate Freeman

If you added up all the sugar your child consumes in a day, would you know if it was too much?

The sugar intake of our children is of increasing concern, particularly with one in four kids in the ACT being classified as overweight or obese. Long term, too much sugar puts them at risk of weight gain and other health problems such as tooth decay. Taking steps to reduce their sugar intake through small, positive changes, is one of the most important things you can do for the long-term health of your kids.

Despite the myriad of advice out there to ‘quit’ sugar, you don’t actually need to completely eliminate it from your child’s (or your family’s) diet, nor is that even possible. Sugar naturally occurs in almost all foods; including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, milk and whole grains – foods that are also very nutritious. It’s the added sugars in processed foods that we need to mindful of because they can add up quickly across the course of the day.

Understanding the difference between natural and added sugars is a vital part of knowing how to reduce the added sugar. Once you’ve got that down pat, it’s as simple as making some easy swaps from one food to another. Often, it’s simply swapping a processed food for a whole food!


Day one: An example of a day with high added sugars.

How much sugar is too much?

In Australia, we don’t have a recommended daily intake level for added or total sugars. The Australian Dietary Guidelines, developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, is the gold standard in Australia for country wide dietary advice. For adults and children, they recommend limiting intake of foods such as biscuits, cakes, pastries, confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft-drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks. If you started by reducing your consumption of the foods above, you would be well on your way to getting your intake of added sugars, down to a level that was better for your long term health.

Healthy alex alex12

Day two: An example of a healthier day.

It all adds up…

When it comes to sugar, you can’t blame any particular food or drink. It’s actually the accumulation of all the added sugars across the day that makes the biggest difference; and it adds up quickly!

Let’s say your child has a 30gram serve of sugary breakfast cereal, a fruit drink popper and a chocolate cupcake in their lunch box, two biscuits for afternoon tea and a fun size chocolate bar after dinner. This adds up to 18 tsp of added sugar per day. This is too much.

By making small, simple food swaps, it’s actually really easy to reduce the added sugar from your child’s diet. The combined effect of these little daily changes adds up to make a big difference in your child’s health long term. I want to show you how!

Take a look at the pictures above. They show examples of a day’s worth of food for an average 8-year-old boy or girl. Day one contains too much added sugar. Day two shows how a number of simple food swaps dramatically reduces the amount of added sugar and reflects a diet recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Here’s a breakdown of what foods are in the photos above and where the added sugar is coming from:


Please note added sugar is an estimation. Nutrient composition figures are derived using Easy Diet Diary by Xyris Software that uses an Australian Food Composition database.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the key food swaps used in the example above. They reduce the added sugar by a total of 28 tsp. That’s a reduction of 196 tsp per week and 10192 tsp per year! Just to give you some perspective.

  1. Swap chocolate cereal for wheat biscuits. Reduces added sugar by 2.75 tsp.
  2. Swap a small packet of chocolate biscuits for low fat cheese and wholegrain crackers. Reduces added sugar by just over 2 tsp.
  3. Swap a fruit roll up for vegetables stick with hummus. Reduces added sugar by just over 1 tsp.
  4. Swap a jam sandwich for a chicken, lettuce and avocado sandwich. Reduces added sugar by just over 1 tsp.
  5. Swap a fruit drink box for a bottle of tap water. Reduces added sugar by 4 tsp.
  6. Swap a choc chip muffin for a low fat plain yoghurt and fruit. Reduces added sugar by 6 tsp.
  7. Swap a glass of soft drink for a glass of plain tap water. Reduces added sugar by 5.5 tsp.
  8. Reduce serving size of ice-cream at dessert – better still, challenge your family to have some dessert-free nights each week. Reduces added sugar by 5.5 tsp.

The above food swaps reduce the added sugar from your child’s day significantly. These swaps also provide other important improvements in your child’s nutrition such as:

  • a decrease in total energy intake down to recommended levels,
  • a decrease in total and saturated fat intake,
  • an increase in protein intake,
  • double the intake of dietary fibre, and
  • an increase in calcium.

How great is that? Not only do these healthy swaps improve sugar intake but they improve overall diet quality as well!

Take away points:

Natural sugars found in whole foods, such as vegetables, milk, fruit and grains are not a health concern for our families. These foods deliver sugar in just the right amount combined with other important nutrients: vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Added sugars are the primary concern for the health of our children and as I’ve shown in the example above, can add up quickly throughout the day. Swapping a processed food containing added sugar (check ingredients lists here) for a whole food is the best way to manage your child’s overall sugar intake.

The best part about making these swaps is that not only do they reduce added sugar but they also improve overall diet quality by boosting nutrient intake and getting the overall energy intake right.

Never underestimate the power of small, positive changes. Just a few easy swaps each day is completely achievable and can be all it takes to get the whole family eating better!

Head over to The Good Habits for Life website and sign your family up for the Sugar Swap Challenge. You’ll be equipped with lots of helpful resources to help your family swap out sugary drinks, sugary snacks and sugary breakfast cereals. I guarantee that after you’ve made a few of these swaps your family will be feeling great and ready to make some of these swaps for good!

This is a sponsored post. For more information on our sponsored post policy, click here. 


Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author

Handmade Leaderboard AW18