Recommended and current intakes

Dietary guidelines in Australia and New Zealand advise to choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars, and to limit intake

The World Health Organisation suggests limiting 'free sugars' to less than 10% of total energy

Sugars intakes have been decreasing over time in Australia and New Zealand

How and what we eat, our dietary pattern, and food choices can impact our long term risk of developing certain chronic diseases.

To lower chronic disease risk, we have Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (Table 1), which indicate the ideal proportion of daily energy intake that should come from protein, carbohydrate and fat.

These ranges were developed using evidence from a variety of nutrition science studies, relating to the risk of overweight, obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, nutrient inadequacy and cancer.

For carbohydrate, the recommended contribution to daily energy intake is 45-65%.

Table 1: Acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges

Nutrient % contribution to total energy intake 
Carbohydrate 45-65
Fat 20-35
Protein 15-25

 

Sugar intake recommendations 

Recommendations on sugars focus on added sugars and/or free sugars. Although they may sound similar they are defined differently. Free sugars include fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates, whereas added sugars usually do not.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines say

“Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.”

This is a food-based (rather than nutrient-based) recommendation, consistent with the overall approach of the guidelines. The advice is based on a ‘probable association’ between sugary beverages and the increased risk of weight gain, and a ‘suggestive association’ for the remainder of health associations.

The New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines say to

“choose and prepare food and drinks with little or no added sugars”.

This advice is based on a combination of dietary guidelines from around the world. It largely reflects the relationship between sugars and body weight and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

 The most well known advice comes from the World Health Organisation. Their advice is based on 'moderate quality' evidence for a positive relationship between free sugars intake and dental caries. Note, their free sugars definition includes fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates, as well as added sugars.

The World Health Organisation recommends intakes of 'free sugars' should be limited to less than 10% of total energy.

They also made a conditional recommendation to reduce free sugars to less than 5% of total energy for further health benefits. This is based on studies that are considered very low-quality.

How much sugar are we eating now?

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2011-12 shows

  • Added sugars intake 59g/d in men and 42g/d in women (average 52g).
  • Percent energy from added sugars in adults was around 9.4%
  • Percent energy from added sugars in children and youth was 11%.

Overall mean usual intake of free sugars for Australians aged 2 years and over is 60g a day. This equates to 10.9% total energy.

Adolescent males had the highest intake of free sugars at 92g a day. The top 10% of male teenagers consumed at least 160g a day.

In New Zealand adults:

  • Median free sugars was 57g a day. This is 11% of total energy.
  • Median added sugars was 49g a day. This is 10% of total energy.
  • Younger age groups had higher intakes; males aged 15-18 years consumed 84g of free sugars a day.
  • There were no significant differences in free and added sugar by ethnicity.

Overall median usual intake of free sugars for New Zealand adults is 57g a day. This equates to 11% of total energy.

There is no New Zealand data for children, however sucrose content was derived by chemical analysis to give an approximation of sugars intake in the last nutrition survey in 2008-9.

In children sucrose intake was:

  • 67g/day in males (12.4% of total energy)
  • 61g/day in females (13.3% of total energy)
  • 72g/day in male children who identify as Maori
  • 69g/day in female children who identify as Maori

Trends over time

Between 1995 and 2011/12 free sugars decreased in Australia, 12.5-10.9% of total energy. The largest reduction was among children and due to less soft drinks, cordial and fruit drinks. 

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand have a summary of the consumption data here.

In New Zealand there has also been a reduction, although the most recent data available is from 2008/9. There is an estimateed 5g reduction in sucrose intakes, 1997-08/09, among adults. 

What foods contain the highest amounts?

The majority of free sugars in Australian diets come from discretionary or occasional foods. 

  • Soft drinks and sports drinks (19%)
  • Pastries, biscuits, cakes, muffins, scones and cake-type desserts (14%)
  • Fruit juice and fruit drinks (13%)
  • Sugar, honey and syrups (11.6%)
  • Confectionary and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars (8.7%) - most are discretionary.

In New Zealand, sugar and sweets are seen as the highest contributors (23%) followed by non-alcoholic beverages (16%).

What is their contribution to energy intakes?

While sugar sweetened drinks are the highest contributors to added sugars intakes, their contribution to energy intake is relatively small in comparison to other discretionary or occasional foods.

Contribution to total energy intake from discretionary foods in Australia:

  • Alcoholic beverages 4.8%
  • Cakes, muffins, scones, cake-type desserts 3.4%
  • Confectionery and cereal/nut/fruit/seed bars (2.8%)
  • Pastries 2.6%
  • Sweet biscuits and savoury biscuits 2.5%
  • Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters 1.9%
  • Potato chips/fries 1.7%
  • Snack foods 1.5%
  • Frozen milk products 1.5%
  • Sugar, honey and syrups 1.3%

Who are the high sugar consumers?

In Australia, teenage boys have the highest intake of free sugars, particularly from sugary drinks. They had 35% of their free sugars from soft drinks, sports and energy drinks. New Zealand data is similar. There are also differences by location - highest intakes were found in inner regional and remote areas of Australia. 

For more info see our Infographics here


REFERENCES

  • Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Sugar. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/Pages/Sugar.aspx (accessed 16 July 2020)
  • Ministry of Health (2015) Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults, Wellington.
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
  • Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.011 - Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12 
  • University of Otago and Ministry of Health. 2011. A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health
  • Kibblewhite R., Nettleton A., McLean R., Haszard J., Fleming E., Kruimer D., Te Morenga L. Estimating free and added sugar intakes in New Zealand. Nutrients. 2017;9:1292. doi: 10.3390/nu9121292  

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