I’m asked this all the time by parents and I’m pleased to tell you the answer is a resounding NO!

While there aren’t really any benefits to eating sugar for its own sake, it also isn’t the evil that it can be portrayed as. However, we are all eating too much. So it is worth being aware of the recommended intakes for sugar, how much is in many everyday foods and making an effort to stay within the guidelines.

How much sugar is ok?

With so many mixed messages in the media and on social media sites about what we should and shouldn’t be eating that it can feel overwhelming and hard for parents to know what’s best.

Public Health England recommends we get only 5% of our calorie intake from ‘free’ sugars.

This works out as:

In reality, the latest government research shows that children aged 4-10 are actually getting around 13.5% of their daily calories from ‘free’ sugar, much more than the recommended 5%.

The main sources are soft drinks, cakes and pastries, jams, biscuits, breakfast cereals, chocolates and sweets, yoghurts and ice-creams.

What is ‘free’ sugar?

Free sugar is all sugar that is added to food, either by food manufacturers or by the consumer at home. Ssugar found naturally in honey, syrups (such as maple and agave), nectars, fruit juices, smoothies, concentrates, purees and pastes.

Free sugar is also found naturally in whole fruit, including fresh, frozen, tinned and dried (fructose) or milk and dairy products (lactose).

A diet high in free sugars can lead to weight gain and tooth decay which is why we are advised to limit our intake.

For ideas for sugar swaps and healthier snacks to give children visit www.nhs.uk/change4life

Tips to look out for

1. Many products that market themselves as healthy alternatives are actually high in free sugars. For example, statements such as ‘natural’, or ‘no added sugar’ and ‘no refined sugar’ on packaging give a product a ‘health halo’. But a closer look at the ingredients can show they actually contain honey or fruit juice concentrate, which have exactly the same effect as table sugar on our bodies and count as free sugars.

2. Just because a product says it counts as one of your 5-a-day don’t assume it’s a healthy option. Yoyo Bears, School Bars and Fruit Flakes are popular with children and as they’re made of fruit you could be forgiven for thinking they’re a healthy option. But a pack of two strawberry Yoyos contain 8g of free sugars (42g of sugar per 100g) and almost half of the free sugars a 4-6 year old should eat in a whole day. A Fruit Bowl strawberry bar has similar levels of sugar in a 20g bar.

3. Although dried fruit, fruit juice and smoothies provide important nutrients they still contain a lot of sugar. Give dried fruit at mealtimes and limit juices and smoothies to one 150ml glass a day. For children, it’s best to dilute fruit juice.

This article was contributed by Shefalee Loth, Public Health Nutritionist has worked for the NHS, Bupa and consumer organisation Which? Shefalee is also a mum based in Wimbledon.