Healthy Eating in Schools guidance 2020: supplementary information and advice on energy and key nutrients

This is supplementary guidance to the guidance book on Healthy Eating in Schools focusing upon providing information about the energy and key nutrients which form the basis for provision of school food and drink.

Free Sugars

Why eat less free sugars?

Sugar is a carbohydrate that is found in lots of foods. It can be classified into different types:

Free Sugars

Free sugars include all sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition, lactose (the sugar in milk) when naturally present in milk and milk products and the sugars contained within the cellular structure of foods are excluded.

We should limit the consumption of food that contains free sugars, as they imbalance the diet, can cause tooth decay and displace other more important vitamins and minerals.

Intrinsic and milk sugars

Intrinsic sugars are those that are present naturally within the cellular structure of food. These sugars are found in foods such as whole fruit and vegetables.

Milk sugars (lactose) are those found naturally in milk and milk products.

Foods containing intrinsic and milk sugars do not need to be avoided. These foods can also provide many other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc.

Total Sugar

Total sugar includes all sugars:

  • the sugars in milk (lactose) or integrally present in the cells of food such as fruit and vegetables;
  • all sugar found in dried, stewed or canned fruit; and
  • all sugars added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumers, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices.

Labelling of sugar

Sugars can be labelled on the ingredient list on foods in a number of different ways.

If sugar is mentioned near the top of the ingredient list, the product is likely to be high in sugar.

Terms for ingredients which contain free sugars are as follows:

  • Fruit and vegetable products: concentrate, juice, paste, powder, purée.
  • Extracts: malt extract.
  • Sugar in the name: beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, caramelised sugar, coconut palm sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, demerara sugar, icing sugar, invert sugar, jam sugar, molasses sugar, organic sugar, preserving sugar, raw cane sugar, raw sugar.
  • Syrup, treacle and honey: agave syrup, carob fruit syrup, corn syrup, date syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, inverted sugar syrup, maple syrup, molasses, rice malt syrup, treacle.
  • Nectar: agave nectar, coconut blossom nectar, date nectar, fruit nectar.
  • Other: crystalline sucrose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, glucose-fructose, isoglucose, maltose, sucrose.
  • Milk derivatives as added ingredients: galactose, hydrolysed lactose, lactose, whey powder.

It should also be noted that foods that state that they contain 'no added sugar' might still contain free sugars in the form of fruit purees or fruit juice concentrate.



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