Hidden sugar and smart swaps

Even food you think is healthy often contains high levels of sugar relative to what your daily intake should be. We highlight the culprits and give you some tasty sugar-free swaps.

hidden sugar

How much is too much?

The World Health Organization (or WHO) recommends a free sugar intake of no more than 10% of your daily calorie intake. For an adult with a body mass index of 20 to 25, that works out to about 12 teaspoons — or 50g — of sugar per day. One teaspoon of sugar is about 4g, so that’s just over 12 teaspoons of sugar.

The WHO guideline includes added sugar and natural sugars present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, but excludes natural sugars in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk.

A “healthy” day’s menu that’s actually packed with sugar

If you ate bran flakes plus fruit juice for breakfast, soup at lunch, a mid-afternoon muesli bar, pasta in a tomato-based sauce and a yoghurt for supper, you may feel you had a healthy day. But you could have eaten an incredible 26 teaspoons of added sugar, double the recommended amount!

cereal Orange juice Soup
40g bran flakes

1 teaspoon sugar

1 glass orange juice

6.5 teaspoons sugar

400g bowl tinned soup

4 teaspoons sugar

Cereal bar tomato pasta sauce yoghurt
Muesli bar

8 teaspoons of sugar

Tomato-based sauce

2.5 teaspoons of sugar (per half jar of pasta sauce)

175g flavoured yoghurt

4 teaspoons of sugar










Stealth sugar

These every day staples in most of our kitchens contain the following amounts of sugar:

  • Canned corn just under half a teaspoon per 100g
  • Tomato sauce just under one teaspoon per tablespoon
  • Baked beans one teaspoon per can
  • Savoury crackers just over one teaspoon per 100g
  • Fruit-flavoured yoghurt drink about 10 teaspoons per 300ml bottle

Smart sugar swaps

Nutritionist Mayuri Bhawan has identified four surprisingly high-sugar foods as well as some healthy replacements with less sugar to help keep you on the right track.



Bran flakes – 1 teaspoon, or 5g, of sugar in a 40g serving Oats – these generally contain 0,2g of sugar per 100g serving
Pasta sauce with a tomato base – up to six teaspoons of sugar in a jar Make your own – or try Ina Paarman’s pasta sauces, which have 0,2g of sugar per 100g
Flavoured low fat yoghurt – around four teaspoons per 175g tub Fat-free Bulgarian yoghurt –  only contains 1 teaspoon of sugar per 100g, and has the thick, creamy texture of full-cream yoghurt
Sparkling flavoured water – around five teaspoons of sugar per 500ml bottle (the same as a 330ml can of Coke) Sparkling water – Add your own squeeze
of fresh lemon, lime or orange for a fruity taste.

Test your sugar knowledge with our quiz.

If you want to go gluten, sugar or dairy free, but aren’t sure where to start, sign up to our #7Days #FreeFrom newsletters. For one week, we’ll send you all the recipes, tips and inspiration you need. Sign up for free here.

DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider


Send this to a friend