Policy Position

The role of sugars in the diet has been in the media spotlight recently resulting in lots of different and often conflicting discussion about the nutrient.

Sugars, like any other nutrient, can be enjoyed safely as part of a varied and balanced diet. They perform a number of different functions in food and drinks beyond flavour. This includes affecting the texture, for example adding crunchiness, melting characteristic or 'mouth feel', providing bulk, adding colour to a final product, or increasing shelf-life. In the UK intakes of free sugars are on a downwards trend, decreasing by 6.1% since 2010 (source: Defra family food), however they are still higher than recommended levels set by UK Government in 2015.

As part of their commitment to play their part in improved public health, and where their portfolio allows them to do so, FDF members in the UK are working to reduce the content of free sugars in their products, with a particular focus on where this results in a calorie reduction. Furthermore, manufacturers provide clear on-pack nutrition information, which includes total sugars, to help individuals to make informed choices and improve their overall food literacy.


On 17 July 2015 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), an independent committee which advises Public Health England and other government agencies and departments, published its final report on carbohydrates (including sugars) and health.

In the final report, SACN made the following recommendations regarding sugars:

  1. SACN recommend the population average intake of free sugars should not exceed 5% of total dietary energy for ages 2 years upwards.
  2. SACN recommend that intakes of sugars-sweetened beverages (SSB’s) be minimised in children and adults.
  3. SACN recommend that the definition for ‘free sugars’ be adopted in the UK. This definition comprises all mono and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose, when naturally present in milk and milk products, and sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods would be excluded.
  4. SACN recommend that the energy lost from a reduction in free sugars be replaced with starches, sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods and in milk and milk products (and this should only occur if person is in energy balance and has a BMI within the normal range).

The SACN report recommended that the DRV for total carbohydrate remain unchanged at 50% of dietary energy.

The Government has approved the recommendations in full and the 5% figure has been adopted as the new dietary recommendation for sugars in the UK. Currently, mean adults intakes of free sugars in the UK are 12.1% of food energy; highlighting the scale of the reduction challenge.

Industry has a long-standing commitment to reducing sugars in products, where they result in an overall calorie reduction, more recently, as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. Companies will continue to reduce sugars in products where technically possible to do so, and in line with the tastes of consumers.

Labelling of sugars

As of 13 December 2014, companies are required to provide mandatory nutrition labelling which includes values for both carbohydrates and total sugars, and many also provide simplified voluntary nutrition information on the front of the pack. The different types of sugars used in a product are also listed individually in the ingredients list. More information on this labelling can be found at FDF’s food labelling site.

Last reviewed: 22 Jul 2016