Our Family’s Sugar Experiment

Since I first posted this blog, it has been picked up by the BBC who ran this article


How it started

My 10 year old has devised a sugar experiment for the whole family, the results of which have really surprised me. I don’t normally blog about food issues relating to health, but this has had such a positive impact, I feel I should share it with you.

I have 3 children, two boys aged 12 and 10 and a girl aged 6. The boys are big into football. My 10 year old has been reading in his football magazine, that healthy eating is important for maximising your fitness.

A few weeks ago, he announced that he had measured out our daily sugar allowances in little bowls in the kitchen. When we ate anything, we had to check the sugar content and spoon that amount back into the sugar jar. When our pot was empty, we’d had our sugar allowance for the day.


Daily Sugar Allowance

The first surprise, was that the NHS official recommended daily sugar allowance, isn’t actually that much.

  • Children aged 4 – 6 years 19g or 5 teaspoons
  • Children aged 7 – 10 years 24g or 6 teaspoons
  • 11 years and over 30g or 7 teaspoons

A teaspoon is about 4g of sugar

When I say ‘not that much’, that’s because according to research, most of us are used to eating at least twice this amount. Those in the 11 -18 age bracket are regularly consuming 3 times as much.

Eating too much sugar causes tooth decay, weight gain and can lead to type 2 diabetes. Tooth decay is the biggest reason for hospital admission in primary school aged children with sugary and fizzy drinks being the main culprits.

Your daily sugar allowance relates to what are called ‘free sugars’. These are sugars added to foods by manufacturers. Whole pieces of fruit and vegetables as well as milk, do not count towards your sugar allowance. Fruit juices, including concentrates, however, do count. This is because fruit juices contain less nutrients than the whole piece of fruit and little or no fibre.

The results of the Sugar Experiment

Over the course of the experiment, we all became much more aware of the amount of sugar hidden in food. In every instance, it was higher than expected.

The biggest change has been with my six year old. On day 2, she announced she no longer wanted to add any sugar to her breakfast cereal. Losing any of her allowance that early in the morning was too much. She has started eating healthier foods she wouldn’t touch before, such as whole pieces of fruit. She now understands that the occasional sugary snack is ok, but there is a good reason she is not allowed unlimited biscuits. Seeing her daily sugar allowance in her bowl, helps her understand. The act of spooning the sugar back into the jar means she can see how much sugar is in the thing that she is about to eat. She is beginning to appreciate that not all foods are the same; some are healthy, some are ok and some are for occasional treats.

Sugar content of popular drinks

For many children, the reason their sugar intake is high, is often down to fizzy and sugary drinks. On the popular 500ml bottles, the sugar content is often only given for 1 serving, which is half a bottle! The list below shows why.

  • Mountain Dew 500ml bottle contains 66g of sugar or 16.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • Lucozade 500ml bottle contains 62g of sugar or 15.5g teaspoons of sugar
  • Can of Coke 300ml has 35g of sugar, higher than even an adults daily allowance at nearly 9 teaspoons
  • Cherry Cola 500ml bottle contains 56g of sugar or 14 teaspoons of sugar
  • Monster Energy 553ml bottle contains 62g of sugar or 15.5 teaspoons of sugar
  • Dr. Pepper 500ml bottle contains 36g of sugar or 9 teaspoons
  • Sprite 500ml bottlecontains 34g of sugar or 8.5 teaspoons
  • Fanta 500ml bottle contains 34g of sugar or 8.5 teaspoons
  • Volvic touch of Summer Fruits 500ml bottle contains 21.4g of sugar or over 5 teaspoons of sugar

I also looked at some drinks marketed to younger children

  • Robinsons 200ml 1 of your 5 a day fruit shoot contains 18g of sugar or 4.5 teaspoons
  • Capri Sun 200ml orange pouch contains 20g of sugar or 5 teaspoons
  • Capri Sun 200ml blackcurrant flavour pouch contains 24.4g of sugar or just over 6 teaspoons

Our reflections on the sugar experiment

Our family sugar experiment has been hugely beneficial. The daily allowance figures are NHS guidelines, so we couldn’t negociate around them. I feel we are better able to make good choices when it comes to food and especially drinks. My daughter is now eating healthy food that she refused before and understands why I sometimes say no. Reading the labels on foods has been a real eye opener. We have discovered foods are not always as they seem and labels can be misleading. Sugar is addictive, but after a few weeks we can all say we are quite happy with our daily sugar allowance and it no longer seems low.

One thought on “Our Family’s Sugar Experiment

  1. Bethan O'Sullivan says:

    Wow. Well done to your son for that experiment. Hubby moaned and said we eat more yadda yadda. I’m going to try this! But I will struggle as I’ve never kept a diary or kept to a diet or a lifestyle change for more than five minutes. I’m hoping that hoping zero waste will help me.

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